Knoxville Opera returns to the stage with Boito’s ‘Mefistofele’ – Knoxville Arts
BY ALAN SHERROD
IIn the opera world of the 1860s, more than the Alps separated Italy from Germany. The battle between the influences of Giuseppe Verdi in the world of Italian opera and the supporters of Richard Wagner and European Romanticism in Germany was epic. As a result, sides were taken and lines were drawn, figuratively speaking. In Italy, an artistic movement known as Scapigliature felt that Italian culture had fallen into the doldrums, but could revive by learning lessons from elsewhere, notably Germany and its version of Romanticism.
One of the notable members of the scapigliati was a poet and composer Arrigo Boito (1842-1918). Originally from Padua and the son of a painter and a Polish countess, Boito studied music at the Milan Conservatory, finishing at age 19 in 1861. Seven years later, in 1868, he was able to stage his first completed opera – and only completed opera, as it turned out-Mefistofele. In writing both the music and the libretto, Boito followed his aesthetic inclinations and based himself Mefistofele at Goethe Faust. The timeline is somewhat revealing: Mefistofele and Wagner Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg created the same year.
The first performance of Mefistofele was a perfect example of the battle raging between the world of Italian opera and the Wagnerians. This overlong first version sparked boos, riots and public unrest, and was shut down by the police after its second performance. Boito then made substantial cuts and revisions to the work and had a considerably better reaction when he was able to stage it in Bologna in 1875.
For the rest of his career, Boito made his way as a librettist rather than a composer. At the same time, during the 1870s and 1880s, Verdi’s world of Italian opera inevitably fell victim to changes in European music. Following his Aida in 1871, Verdi felt estranged from the direction of the opera and unofficially retired. In 1880, Verdi’s publisher Giulio Recordi, in an effort to get Verdi to compose again, devised a collaboration on a Verdi revision. Simon Boccanegra with Boito as librettist. Subsequently, Verdi’s compositional spirit having recovered, Boito wrote the libretto for Verdi’s last two operas, otello and Falstaff.
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Knoxville Opera Houselong absent from the scene since the production of Gounod in 2020 Romeo and Juliet due to the Covid-19 shutdown, returns with a production by Boito’s Mefistofele This weekend. KO last produced the 1868 opera Boito in 2015 in a production that, as a reviewer, I felt compelled to describe using phrases such as “splendid stage images” and “choral and orchestral sound on a monumental scale.
In this week’s knockout production, making his knockout debut as Mefistofele is bass-baritone Hidenori Inoue. Having received an education in Kyoto and later a master’s degree in music from the Manhattan School of Music, Inoue sang a number of the main bass-baritone roles, including the roles of Leporello and the Commendatore in Don Giovanniand the Bonze in Lady Butterfly before the interruption of the stop. His next roles will include Sarastro in Die Zauberflote and Don Fernando in Fidelio for the Austin Opera.
The soprano is also making her Knoxville Opera debut Abigail Santos Villalobos in the role of Margarita. Villalobos has been on the faculty of Belmont University School of Music since 2019. She earned her master’s and doctorate degrees from the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. She has premiered and toured nationally with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Opera Unlimited, San Diego Opera, Houston Grand Opera and Fort Worth Opera. Previously, Villalobos was a member of the Santa Fe Opera Remarkable Apprenticeship Program.
Tenor Kirk Dougherty (Faust) made a big knockout debut in Mozart’s Double Bill in 2018 The impresario and that of Puccini Gianni Schicchi singing Rinuccio. Dougherty must sing the duke in Rigoletto for Opera Orlando next month, a role he played in January of this year as well.
In other roles there are familiar and welcome faces from previous Knoxville Opera productions. Allison Dead sings Marta; Tim Pope sings Wagner.
The director is Brian Deedrick who directed the 2015 production; KO art director Brian Salesky, leaving the company after this season, is musical director and conductor. The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra will be on stage with a choir of over 100 singers.
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Knoxville Opera House: Boito’s Mefistofele
Tennessee Theater, 604 S. Gay Street
Friday March 4, 2022, at 7.30 p.m. and Sunday March 6, at 2.30 p.m.
Tickets and information