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Mefistofele (1868)
Nerone (1924)

Mefistofele is an opera in a prologue, four acts and an epilogue, the only completed opera by the Italian composer-librettist Arrigo Boito.


Composition history

Boito began consideration of an opera on the Faustian theme after completing his studies at the Milan Conservatory in 1861. Mefistofele is one of many pieces of classical music based on the Faust legend, and like many other composers, Boito used Goethe's version as his starting point. He was an admirer of Richard Wagner, and like him chose to write his own libretto, something which was virtually unheard of in Italian opera up to that time.

The most popular earlier work based on the legend was Gounod's opera Faust, which Boito regarded as a superficial and frivolous treatment of a profound subject. Furthermore, Boito was contemptuous of what he saw as the low operatic standards prevailing in Italy at that time, and he determined to make his new work distinctive, both musically and intellectually, from anything that had been heard before. He hoped that it would be a wake-up call and an inspiration to other young Italian composers.

The piano-vocal score was completed in 1867 while Boito was staying in Poland where he was visiting relatives.

Performance history and revisions

Mefistofele premiered on 5 March 1868 at La Scala, Milan under the baton of the composer himself, despite his lack of experience and skill as a conductor. As the evening progressed the hostility of the audience, unfamiliar with Boito’s avant-garde musical style and unimpressed by many of the scenes (notably the scene in the emperor's court), steadily increased. Furthermore the work was far too long and the cast inadequate for the complexities of the music. When the curtain finally came down well after midnight it was clear that the premiere had been nothing short of a fiasco. After just two performances (the second one was split over two nights), the opera was withdrawn.

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