I Left My Heart in San Francisco
I Left My Heart in San Francisco
Sharing San Francisco Treats

Banal Music, Sloppy Production ...

  • Jun 17, 2010
... but Samuel Ramey is almost good enough to make it worth hearing/watching once. I hope the poor devil didn't have to sing this mediocre opera too many times during his brilliant career! The other soloists - Dennis O'Neill as Faust and Gabriela Benackova as Margarita - sing artfully also, but nothing they do can compensate for the dreadful out-of-tune groaning of the San Francisco Opera Chorus. This is an opera in which the chorus sings a lot, for long stretches, and I've seldom heard as dismal a lack of basic ensemble as on this DVD. Dante ought to have constructed a special circle of his Inferno for inadequate choristers.

But who was Arrigo Boito? Condensed from wikiknowitall:
""Born in Padua, Boito studied music at the Milan Conservatory with Alberto Mazzucato until 1861. His only finished opera, Mefistofele, based on Goethe's Faust, was given its first performance on 5 March 1868, at La Scala, Milan. The premiere, which he conducted himself, was badly received, provoking riots and duels over its supposed "Wagnerism", and it was closed by the police after two performances. Verdi commented, "He aspires to originality but succeeds only at being strange." Boito withdrew the opera from further performances to rework it, and it had a more successful second premiere, in Bologna on 10 April 1875. Boito's revised and drastically cut version also changed Faust from a baritone to a tenor.
Other than Mefistofele, Boito wrote very little music.
Boito's literary powers never dried up. As well as writing the libretti for his own operas, he wrote them for other composers. As "Tobia Gorrio" (an anagram of his name) he provided the libretto for Amilcare Ponchielli's La Gioconda. Boito successfully revised the libretto for Verdi's unwieldy Simon Boccanegra, which then premiered to great acclaim in 1881. With that, their mutual friendship and respect blossomed and, though Verdi's projection for an opera based on King Lear never came to anything, Boito provided subtle and resonant libretti for Verdi's last masterpieces, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893). When Verdi died, Boito was there at his bedside.""

That objectionable "Wagnerism" is noticeable chiefly in the overtures, and is barely skin deep. Verdi's judgment remains apt; the score is meandering bandshell music at best, bellowing bombast at worst. I know of operas based on Goethe's faust by eleven other composers - Spohr, Busoni, Gounod, Berlioz, Pousseur, Bochmer, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Lutz, Schnittke, and Dusapin. Boito's is easily the least satisfactory.

This is an opulent production, though not visually enticing enough to compensate for the miserable music. The sets and costumes are lavish. The chorus is huge (that might be why it sounds so raggedy) and there are dozens of extras and dancers, though the stage is often so crowded that effective movement is impossible. It's interesting that such an extravagant production was plausible not so many years ago. It would be beyond the purse of the struggling SF Opera to mount such a production today.

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Göran ()
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Last Login: Aug 31, 2010 06:58 PM UTC
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Arrigo Boito's treatment of the Faust legend has never been as popular as Gounod's, but Boito was an imaginative composer and a great librettist (he wrote the words for Verdi'sOtelloandFalstaff, the two finest librettos in Italian opera). As the title suggests, hisMefistofeleputs the spotlight on the diabolical villain of the story at least as much as its hapless hero. It is a role ideally suited to Samuel Ramey, requiring a rich, deep voice, a striking stage presence, and only elementary acting skills. He has taken it to most of the world's great opera houses with spectacular success, and it is good to have it in a first-class video recording.

The libretto stands out, among operatic treatments of Faust, for its effort to capture the full, epic scope of Goethe's drama, including its moments of unearthly sublimity. The prologue and the conclusion are among opera's most memorable moments of choral grandeur, as this production makes clear. Elsewhere, Boito is witty, colorful, and, sometimes, philosophically dry. --Joe McLellan

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Director: Brian Large
Screen Writer: Arrigo Boito
DVD Release Date: July 31, 2001
Runtime: 160 minutes
Studio: Kultur Video
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