Sunday, 11 October 2009

The voice of the Devil

What if I was bothering my modest readership with another opera post? I haven't done this in a while. I blogged about it in French here, so a year ago. I love the story of Faust, which I discovered through the opera of Gounod. There are of course many other interpretations of the legend. I have discovered recently Boito's Mefistofele, more especially an aria of the title character which I will show you later.

Anyway, the reason why I am fascinated by Gounod's opera and its subject is because of the perfect way the devil is depicted. He is the instigator of the plot, the one who takes initiatives and put the story in motion, until its tragic ending. And Mephistophélès is always pictured as utterly malevolent, yet charming. Throughout the story, we root for him, not Faust or the forces of virtue, which are pretty much impotent until the end. But the real nature of the devil is revealed through his voice: low, threatening but penetrating, fascinating like the stare of a snake. Mephisto is a seducer. This is what opera does best: it gives an aesthetic reality to abstract concept. The beauty of the devil, temptation, it means nothing unless one can get a concrete manifestation of it. And nothing beats a great bass voice to give shape and presence to these concepts.

I haven't watched/listened to the entirety of Mefistofele yet. I will, because I am growing quite fond of some of its arias. By the way the Devil introduces himself, he is certainly more threatening than in Gounod. Yet, we can feel in the voice the power of fascination he has. I have decided to put here the interpretation of one of my favourite bass-barytone, Samuel Ramey. He made himself famous for singing as Mephistopheles in Boito's and Gounod's works, among other things. He also makes a great Don Giovanni, as you can see/hear here. If you can have the patience of going through the very chatty French presenter, you can hear him here singing Vous qui faites l'endormie, from the Faust of Gounod. Here you can hear him as Satan shows himself to Faust in the same opera. And here are two versions (I couldn't decide which one to put here) where Mefistofele played by Ramey reveals himself to Faust in the opera of Boito. This is a much more dangerous Satan, bitter fallen angel who makes no secret of his ambitions. If you know a bit of Italian like me, you can follow the lyrics in the first video.

1 comment:

The Artful Gypsy aka Wendy the Very Good Witch said... I watched these clips. And I must confess that I have very little experience with Opera. And honestly, I'm not sure it is my thing. And I mainly believe that to be because I am a very 'visual' creature, which makes sense because I am an artist. I love Theatre when I have the chance to go see something. But Central Florida is not exactly known as a mecca of culture. And I tend to get more enjoyment out of great visuals. I also have a want to be able to know what it is being said, which of course I cannot tell in Opera when I do not know the language, and that seems to frustrate me. I do have an appreciation of most art forms though, so perhaps Opera is one that I could grow to enjoy more IF I had someone who could explain it to me as I viewed and listened to it. I know this makes me sound every bit the 'uncultured' American that I am, and rightly so. Which is why I long to expand my horizons through travel. I wish I had more knowledge with which to comment and add something of interest, but this is certainly an area I have little experience with. Enjoyed watching them though! :o)