Opera Scotland

Mefistofele 1913Carl Rosa Opera Company

Read more about the opera Mefistofele

Boito's operatic adaptation of Goethe's Faust has never become a popular favourite, though it has on occasion been performed at the Verona Arena (a wonderful venue for the opening and closing choruses.  Although much of the work is admirable, it does suffer from some faults.  There is some irony in the fact that an older and more experienced Boito could provide Verdi with two near-faultless libretti for Otello and Falstaff, as well as greatly improving Simon Boccanegra.  In earlier years his libretti included. not only his own Mefistofele and Nerone, but also La gioconda, the gloriously melodic but dramatically awkward masterpiece of Ponchielli.  The texts for these three are not a patch on his mature work for Verdi.

Never mind.  Mefistofele contains some wonderful sections.  It begins and ends with distinguished choral writing for massed voices.  The leading characters enjoy excellent solo opportunities, especially Margherita's dungeon aria ''L'altra notte.''  There is also an attractive and atmospheric cameo for Helen of Troy.  On record the opera has attracted many of the greatest stars of recent days, even if they didn't choose to perform it ''live.''


The 1912-13 seasons seem to be the only years that Mefistofele was performed by the Carl Rosa organisation after its first attempt back in 1884.  It opened on 7 September 1912 during a visit to one of London's many provincial theatres, the Marlborough at Holloway. The opera was performed several times at Covent Garden in the early part of the century. The only British professional company to have staged it since the war is Welsh National, in 1957, though Glasgow Grand gave ir a whirl, with some success, in 1951.

One perhaps wonders why on this tour Boito's enjoyable masterpiece should only be seen in Aberdeen and Dundee, but then the central belt cities both saw it in 1912.  In addition they were treated to equally rare works by Goldmark (Edinburgh) and Wolf-Ferrari (Glasgow).  Perhaps the two northern evenings were regarded as the tail end of the tour which had run through 1912.  As it happens, Edinburgh did see Mefistofele on this tour.  Thursday, 20 February had originally been scheduled for the Scottish premiere of The Jewels of the Madonna (Wolf-Ferrari).  But Eugene Goossens was not satisfied with the standard attained in rehearsal and postponed the premiere to Glasgow.  A second Edinburgh performance at the Saturday matinee (22nd) was replaced with a further Magic Flute.

Cast details are taken from the reviews in the Aberdeen Press & JournalDundee Advertiser, and Scotsman.


The View from the North

Aberdeen Press & Journal:  Friday, 24 January 1913  (p7)

Carl Rosa Opera - Mefistofele

'It is not every day that a novelty suchas that presented last evening by the Carl Rosa Opera Company comes the way of Aberdeen, but when to the novelty is added a great and important work, a first hearing, and, not least, a performance so thoroughly praiseworthy and enjoyable, the critic's task is unusually pleasant.

''Boito's Mefistofele, though composed in 1868, had not until revived (in English) by the Carl Rosa Company last year, been heard of in this country for a generation.   Hence no apology need be made for the fact that last evening's performance was a first hearing.   To anticipate matters, it may be said at once that our enjoyment, both of the masterly work itself, and of the performance, was so complete that very little in the way of criticism can be said.  The setting of the piece as regards the amenities was so novel and attractive that there was little thought of a travelling repertoire company with all is handicaps, and its small numbers;  and, in fact, the performance, though on a small scale, was throughout, so far as it went, of a highly artistic standard.

'The work itself has an extraordinary history, which space forbids us to do more than allude to - its disastrous first performance, necessutating the re-writing or re-casting of the whole opera;  the interest attaching to the composer, and the circumstances of its composition, and especially its relation to other works based on the story of Faust, which had an extraordinary fascination from so many points of view. 

'The Faust legend has been made the subject of musical treatment, in one form or another, by various composers;  and operas have been written by Berlioz,  Gounod,  and Boito, all more less founded on Goethe's work. but differing essentially in treatment.  Berlioz's work is rarely heard except as a concert work, so that the works of Gounod and Boito are practically the only settings extant that need claim our attention.  Althugh both founded on Goethe's Faust, Gounod's work is widely different, not only in treatment but in scope from Boito's.

'In Gounod's Faust, the interest is made to centre in Margaret, whose place in the story is in Goethe's work merely incidental, and thus Gounod's work deals with but a small part of oethe's conception.  So much was this recognised when the work appeared that it was first performed in this country, if we are not mistaken, under the title Faust e Margherita, and in Germany is still known in some quarters as Marguerite.  Boito's Mefistofele, on the other hand, is far wider in its range, and aims at a representation of the main part of Goethe's work.

'It may be of interest to sketch very briefly the points of the story used by Boito as a basis for Mefistofele. and summarise practically the composer's own account of the story, as given in a letter to a friend.  The prologue (in the composer's own words) starts with the musical portrayal of ''a wager between the Almighty Principal of Good and the Spirit of Evil.  As in the Book of Job,  the Almighty permits Satan to strive for the soul of the Sage, so, in the German poem, the Creator permits Mefisto to strive for the soul of Faust.  The challenge is accompanied by the hymns of the celestial regions, mingled with echoes of the prayers that ran from earth to heaven.  This is the Prologue.''

'The first act commences on an Easter Day.  Faust, in the company of his friend Wagner, encounters Mefisto in the disguise of a monk, who follows Faust to his laboratory. and the ''compact'' scene follows.  Faust accepts the proferred help of Mefisto, on the condition that when Mefisto shall give him one moment of absolute happiness, his soul is to fall into the clutches of Mefisto.

'The second and third acts deal with Faust and Margaret, and the story follows the lines familiar to everyone, culminating in the death of Margaret, and the disillusonment of Faust.  Mefisto then discovers the mistake he has made in dealing with Faust, that he had failed to deal, as he should, with a high mind, a philosopher, a poet.  He then resolves to resort to supernatural temptations, and transports Faust to a world peopled by the splendid phantoms of ancient Greece.

'In the fourth act we are on the banks of the Peneus;  the world of romance has given way to the classical world, with Helen of Troy as the central figure.  Faust is captivated by the charms of Helen, and prostrates himself at her feet - yet still he does not utter the fatal phrase, for which Mefisto is waiting.  In the epilogue we are taken back to Faust's study.  Mefisto, despairing of success, again asks Faust why he has not yet pronounced the fatal phrase.  Faust, however, dismisses the question, and becoming elevated in the ecstacy of a dream, of the happiness of others and submission to the divine will, he utters the phrase, while under the influence of the Good, and while doing so, falls and dies.  Faust is saved, and Mefisto is crushed and defeated,

'So much for the story upon which Boito has founded his great opera.  Although in this country at least the verdict has not yet been passed upon it, there can be no hesitation in calling the work great, and one of real and lasting beauty.  It is always difficult on a first hearing to give an adequate description of any work, and this difficulty is increased in a work of these proportions, on account of its complete originality and freshness.  It can only be said that the work is bewilderingly and intoxicatingly beautiful from beginning to end.  And this beauty is not of mere melody or grace of outline, but the compelling beauty of a setting completely wedded to the thought.  The skill and dexterity of the composer, too, in portraying his characters and their emotions is great.

'Of skill of the showy and ordinary kind, the common craft of any composer, there is very little;  but there is the far greater power - such at least is the impression left - that does not shrink from painting in hideous colours, or from giving us something ugly and repelling, for no other reason than to enhance some beauty when it is most wanted.  The music accompanying Mefistofele is first of this kind, as might be expected;  the writing of it is extraordinarily clever, and so also is that of the ''Brocken'' scene.  This taken alongside one or two of the concerted pieces, for that matter almost all the music for Faust or Margaret, is enough to show the composer's wonderful versatility.

'Last evening's performance, as has already been indicated,  was a great treat, and, with regard to the details of the performance, it is not too much to say that there was hardly a fault to find, so completely does the work take one by surprise at a first hearing.  It must, however, be owned that the staging and scenery went a long way towards this enjoyment.  There were no less than eight changes of scene, one or two of which were of an exceedingly novel and almost startling kind,  such as the ''Brocken'' scene, and the ''Prologue in the Heavens.'

'Then as to the cast - which is a small one - not only did each and all of them give us complete enjoyment, but there can be no other word than praise for their several appearances.  on whom the burden of the work fell, was powerful and convincing in action, declamation, and singing.  Mr Wegener as Faust must be described as brilliant - more so, perhaps, in his singing than his acting, though it would be hard to say, for his presentation of the rejuvenated Faust was good indeed.  Of a thoroughly musicianly character also was the work of Miss Ina Hill as Margaret.  Her singing was of the same even, refined and elegant character that we have noticed before, but her acting was marked by greater abandon and warmth.  The minor parts falling to Miss Phyllis Archibald and Mr Charles Neville were also done with thoroughness and finish,  and mention must be made of the excellent renderings of the difficult concerted pieces.' 


A Dundee Review

Dundee Advertiser: Saturday, 1 February, 1913

Carl Rosa Opera - Production of Boito's Mefistofele

'Dundee, which is generally shy of putting its money on a dark horse, did wonderfully well with regard to Mefistofele last night.  A good, and, in some parts of Her Majesty's Theatre, a crowded house, witnessed the first representation of Boito's opera here.  Those present were rewarded by a performance so careful, so finished in every detail, and so admirably conceived, as would probably have satisfied the yet-living though aged composer himself.

'No doubt the word “Faust” rather than “Boito” had much to do with the interest that had been aroused.  The Faust legend has exercised an immense attraction on many poets and composers, and, since the days of Gounod, it has also had a big influence on the public.  It is hardly possible to deal with Boito's work without recalling Gounod's and Berlioz' treatment of the same subject.  Boito has viewed his subject from a standpoint different from that of either of his predecessors, and perhaps his view is in most complete accord with the conception of Goethe.

'Gounod and his librettists have given us a version human, sensuous, and at points voluptuous; Berlioz has more particularly emphasised the fantastic and picturesque elements; but Boito, while he, to a certain extent, follows Berlioz, has in addition brought into prominence the philosophical idea of the strife between evil and good for the possession of poor humanity.  As a drama Boito's version is not self-explanatory, as every drama ought to be.  It is a series of interesting but disconnected scenes in Faust's career, which for their proper understanding require a previous study of the story.  As practically everybody now knows the immortal tale, no inconvenience results.

'In an opera the music and not the play (despite Wagner) is “the thing”.  To put it briefly, Boito seems to the present writer to be very successful both lyrically and dramatically, and there is more than a spice of originality in his style.  He is a very evident post-Wagnerian.  Every phase of thought in the words is accurately illustrated harmonically.  The orchestration is not a mere strumming of accompanying chords, but is interesting, sometimes absorbingly interesting, in itself.  Boito is fond of using an inverted pedal point in a high note in the violins or other treble instrument, while he plays with a pretty theme in an instrument of different colour.  There were several instances of this device.  The harp is largely used, and often to great advantage, as in the beautiful duet between Margaret and Faust in Act 3.

'As regards the writing for voices, Boito, as a modern, seeks first of all for expressiveness.  At the same time, he never forgets, like some others, that he must also be interesting.  Therefore, he does not disdain to give us an occasional solo, duet, or other concerted number.  It must be said that he does not invariably steer clear of the obvious, and examples of the penultimate fortissimo high note are not awanting.  Still, and notwithstanding these reservations, the work is a very fine one, and only needs to be heard once or twice in order to become a popular favourite.

'The principal artists were Ina Hill, Phyllis Archibald, Arthur Winckworth, and William Wegener.  Miss Hill as Margaret and Helen played well her parts.  She gave the beautiful and admirably simple music when Margaret first appears with much charm of voice.  In the prison scene, which makes great demands on a vocalist's varied resources, she sang with pathos and power.  The lovely phrases associated with Helen of Troy were just fitted for Miss Hill's pure and classic style.  The rich tones of Miss Archibald were heard to much effect in the Greek scene. The excellent reputation that Mr Wegener has already made for himself here was added to by his representation of Faust.  He could not help looking the ideal lover; and his voice rendered the usual valuable service.  At times his upper notes rang out with trumpet-like vigour, while again in tender passages there was an irresistible beauty in his soft tones.

'The Mephistopheles of Boito is a somewhat sombre individual, in spite of his red garments, and has little of the sardonic in his composition.  We had therefore fewer laughs at his antics and witty sallies than usual.  But, if humour in any great measure was absent, there was plenty of intensity in Mr Arthur Winckworth's presentation of the character, a character which is more of the type of Sir Walter's “foul fiend” than that of the “Auld Hornie Nick, or Clootie” of Robbie.  Mr Winckworth's voice made the usual deep impression, and the bargain scene in Act I owed much to his vocalisation.

'The singing of the chorus was again very noticeably expressive; and the dancing, whether of citizens, witches, or Grecian maidens, was well done.  Admirable were the dresses and stage settings, the Witches' Sabbath on the Brocken and also the Classical Sabbath in Greece being specially effective.  The band, under Mr Goossens, excelled itself, so that altogether Boito, as well as Dundee, had much to be thankful for.'


The Edinburgh Opinion

Scotsman:  Friday, 21 February 1913  (p6)

Boito's Mefistofele at the King's Theatre

'In place of The Jewels of the Madonna, a new opera of the intense modern type which had been promised for a first production outside of London,  the Carl Rosa management at the last moment substituted Boito's Mefistofele.  So much has been heard of the opera of Wolf-Ferrari from London and New York that there was natural and legitimate disappointment at the change among opera-goers who had booked their seats for the great ''novelty'' of the Carl Rosa Company's visit.  But it is understood that the preparation of the work, which combines with an elaborate orchestration of the German style much of the melodic beauty and intensity of the Italian school, took more time in rehearsal than Mr Van Noorden had counted upon;  and rather than present it in a form not equalt to a standard the company aims at, he withdrew it in favour of Mefistofele, which again had been promised for last Friday, and was discarded in favour of The Magic Flute.

'The performance of Mefistofele last night was excellent.  Boito's treatment of the Faust legend can never lay claim in the popular estimation to the opera of Gounod, because it is somewhat philosophical in its conception covering as it were the whole human problem of the struggle between good and evil.  Gounod's Faust picks out one love episode in Goethe's masterpiece;  Boito ranges back to the Doctor Faustus of Marlow and all the others - Blaze de Bury,  Lenau, and Widmann - who have treated of a story of permanent human fascination.  Whether he has succeeded in making a good opera out of Faust and Mephistopheles depends largely upon the standpoint from which criticism is directed.

'As has been indicated, the conception is deeper, and the treatment is less melodious in a popular sense, than in Gounod's Faust;  and Mefistofele, though presented in the days when Madame Marie Roze was the chief soprano in the Carl Rosa Company, can never be said to have held the stage.  On the other hand it may be regarded as an epoch-making work, by an Italian poet and composer, the friend and librettist of Verdi in his latest years, put forth at a period when Wagner was threatening to swamp independent thought in European opera.  For Mefistofele was first produced in 1868, at the Scala, Milan;  and by 1875 its composer had revised it in a way that proved that the Italian melodists were quite capable of appreciating the new ideas of Wagner, and were willing to adapt them, without adopting them.

'Last night's performance was distinguished by excellent work on the part of the orchestra and of the three principals, Miss Ina Hill, Mr Winckworth, and Mr Wegener.  Mr Goossens, as conductor, must be held responsible for the ensemble; and it is sufficient to say that, whil there were points of obvious defect, the opera ran smoothly.  The intervals were too long;  and much more of the music might have been cut in deference to the audience, without destroying the dramatic continuity of the drama.  But the staging is of great elaboration and difficulty, if scenes like the Witches' Sabbath and the Helen of Troy episode are to be adequately presented.  Miss Ina Hill, in her double part, rose to a high level of good dramatic singing; and the music set for her is by no means easy.  Mr Winckworth was necessarily the dominating figure of the opera, and apart from his fine vocal work he bore his character with an appreciable dash of sardonic humour.


Carl Rosa Scottish Tour - 1913

This late winter Scottish season conisisted of seven weeks, each with seven performances.  After a week in Aberdeen (w/c 20 Jan) then one in Dundee (w/c 27 Jan), there followed three in Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre (commencing 3 Feb, 10 Feb, 17 Feb) and two in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal (w/c 24 Feb; 3 Mar).  Two performances originally scheduled of Jewels of the Madonna in Edinburgh were cancelled to allow for more rehearsals.  The operas that replaced them were Mefistofele (20 Feb) and Magic Flute (22 Feb mat)

The sixteen operas performed were by:  Mozart (Don GiovanniZauberflöte);  Benedict (Lily of Killarney);  Balfe (Bohemian Girl);  Thomas (Mignon);  Wallace (Maritana);  Wagner (Tannhäuser, Lohengrin);  Verdi (Trovatore);  Gounod (Faust);  Goldmark (Queen of Sheba);  Boito (Mefistofele);  Bizet (Carmen);  Leoncavallo (Pagliacci);  Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana);  Wolf-Ferrari (Jewels of the Madonna).

The performance schedule was:

Aberdeen, w/c 20 January:  Mon 20 Carmen;  Tue 21 Lohengrin;  Wed 22 Trovatore;  Thu  23 Mefistofele;  Fri 24 Magic Flute;  Sat 25 m Tannhäuser;  Sat 25 e Mignon.

Dundee, w/c  27 January:  Mon 27 Tannhäuser;  Tue 28 Magic Flute;  Wed 29 Mignon;  Thu 30 Trovatore;  Fri 31 Mefistofele;  Sat 1 Feb m Carmen;  Sat 1 Feb e Bohemian Girl.

Edinburgh, w/c 3 February:  Mon 3 Tannhäuser;  Tue 4 Mignon;  Wed 5 Magic Flute;  Thu 6 Trovatore;  Fri 7 Lohengrin;  Sat 8 m Faust;  Sat 8 e Bohemian Girl.

Edinburgh, w/c 10 February:  Mon 10 Magic Flute;  Tue 11 Queen of Sheba;  Wed 12 Carmen;  Thu 13 Maritana;  Fri 14 Magic Flute;  Sat 15 m Mignon;  Sat 15 e Lily of Killarney.

Edinburgh, w/c 17 February:  Mon 17 Cav & Pag;  Tue 18 Don Giovanni;  Wed 19 Faust;  Thu 20 Mefistofele;  Fri 21 Tannhäuser;  Sat 22 m Magic Flute;  Sat 22 e Trovatore.

Glasgow, w/c 24 February:  Mon  24 Magic Flute;  Tue 25 Mignon;  Wed 26 Trovatore;  Thu 27 Cav & Pag;  Fri 28 Jewels of the Madonna;  Sat 1 Mar m Tannhäuser;  Sat 1 Mar e Faust.

Glasgow, w/c  3 March:  Mon 3 Lohengrin;  Tue 4 Jewels of the Madonna;  Wed 5 Magic Flute;  Thu 6 Mignon;  Fri  7 Carmen :  Sat 8 m Jewels of the Madonna;  Sat 8 e Magic Flute.

Performance Cast

Mefistofele the devil

Arthur Winckworth (Jan 23, 31; Feb 20)

Faust a learned doctor

William Wegener (Jan 23, 31; Feb 20)


Ina Hill (Jan 23, 31; Feb 20)

Marta Margherita's neighbour

Phyllis Archibald Jan 23, 31)

Wagner a pupil of Dr Faust

Charles Neville (Jan 23, 31)

Elena Helen of Troy

Ina Hill (Jan 23, 31; Feb 20)

Pantalis Helen's companion

Phyllis Archibald (Jan 23, 31)


Charles Neville (Jan 23, 31)

Production Cast


Eugene Goossens II (Jan 23, 31; Feb 20)


Theophile Marzials

Performance DatesMefistofele 1913

Map List

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

23 Jan, 19.30

Her Majesty's Theatre, Dundee | Dundee

31 Jan, 19.15

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

20 Feb, 14.00

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