Pavarotti/ Mirella Freni/Nucci Condo/Montserrat Caballé/London Opera
Chorus/National Philharmonic Orchestra/Olivero de Fabritiis – Decca
Classic Opera Series 475 6666 (2 discs), 67:11, 78:49, ****:
I should reveal right off that I’m not a big opera fan, but the
Prologue of this one should be high on the list of audiophile demo
material. It is one of most exciting and involving combinations
of orchestra, chorus and various soloists imaginable – including a boys
choir and a leading basso – who gets all the good tunes as the Devil.
It is also one of the very few classical works (until the 20th century
anyway) to specify a spatially-separated location of the performers,
just like the Berlioz Requiem and the Gabrielis’ choral/ brass/organ
works for St. Marks Cathedral. So it’s a real shame that a label like
Telarc hasn’t picked up on this music!
My introduction to it was a Toscanini/NBC Symphony performance from a
radio broadcast, in very dead dull mono sound but such a stirring
treatment – more guts than this Decca reissue, as good as it is. In
fact it was only the Prologue without the rest of the opera. The full
title is Prologue in Heaven, and the setting is as follows; “Swirling
clouds of star dust. Fanfares. Thunder. Hosts of Celestial Beings
concealed by the clouds of star dust… Mephistopheles appears.”
Obviously, the spatial separation is not of a horizontal nature but a
vertical one! Just made for hi-res 5.1 with the LFE used for a height
channel! (Which nobody seems to be doing anymore.)
It begins and ends with a great hymn sung by the celestial beings and
cherubim with lots of percussion, brass and angelic harps.
Mefistofele makes his appearance and speaks directly to God, excusing
himself for not having a halo. He complains that man has become so
confused as to be not worth tempting anymore. The Chorus Mysticus,
channeling the Lord, asks if Mefistofele knows Faust. The reply
is yes, and he wagers he can land Faust in his net. The challenge is
accepted and the opera gets underway with four acts and an Epilogue on
the familiar Faust/Devil/Margareta story line.
Ghiaurov is a perfect Mefistofele ( I seem to tend toward operas with
bassos as the most interesting voice, also being partial to Boris
Godunov) and Pavarotti is, well, Pavarotti. Balances with the chorus
and orchestra are fine and Decca’s remastering is skillful, with good
clarity of the voices and wide range reproduction. I just wish it
were in surround.
– John Sunier