Arrigo Boito was known as a writer — one of Giuseppe Verdi’s best librettists.
Together they created Verdi’s greatest operas (Otello, 1887 and Falstaff, 1893), thanks to both to Boito’s poetry and their intense debates around structure, words, and phrases. The Verdi-Boito Correspondence, 301 letters between Verdi and Boito, documents the fascinating relationship between the two as an artistic team.
But Boito aspired to be a composer.
His only completed opera, Mefistofele, based on Goethe's Faust, was given its first performance in 1868 at La Scala, Milan. The premiere, which Boito conducted himself, was poorly received, provoking riots over its supposed "Wagnerism". The opera was closed by the police after two performances.
Years after its premiere, Boito shortened the opera. The slimmed-down version gradually gained acceptance, and by 1880 had been successfully performed in Italy, England, and the US, although it is rarely performed today.
While you may not have heard of the opera, it has one of the most beautiful (and intense!) soprano arias ever written: “L'altra notte in fondo al mare”.
What is happening in this aria? Margherita has poisoned her mother, killed her baby, and is now in prison. I told you it was intense.
Here are four of the greats (Mirella Freni, Renata Tebaldi, Maria Callas, and Montserrat Caballé) singing the aria.
(You can hear a full version of the opera here with Plácido Domingo, Eva Marton, and Samuel Ramey).
🎧 Listening Example (6 minute listen): “L’altra notte in fondo al mare” from Act III of the Italian opera Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito
“L’altra notte infondo al mare” lyrics, English Translation
The other night
into the depths of the sea
they cast my baby,
And now to drive me mad they say
I drowned him.
The air is cold, the cell is gloomy
And my sad soul
like a bird in the wood flies,
Ah, have pity on me.
What’s coming up?
My favorite Figaro (hint: Glyndebourne Festival, 1973)
Cut, cuts, and more cuts (Symphonic music is often played as written, but opera is often cut. Why? Let’s look at those arias and scenes)
Mirella Freni and how to know when it’s time to stop (and Ettore Campogalliani, voice teacher and coach to Freni, Pavarotti, Scotto, and Bergonzi)
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Thank you for reading (and listening),
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