BOITO: "MEFISTOFELE." Nicolai Ghiaurov, bass; Luciano Pavarotti,...

BOITO: "MEFISTOFELE." Nicolai Ghiaurov, bass; Luciano Pavarotti, tenor; Mirella Freni, Montserrat Caballe, sopranos; London Opera Chorus and National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Oliviero de Fabritiis. London LDR 73010 (three records) (digital). The phonograph has always proved an apt medium for minimizing the flaws in Boito's sometimes inspired and occasionally exasperating bid for immortality as a composer. This spectacular sounding issue is no exception. For every page that falls short of accommodating Goethe's vision, there is another that marks a flawed genius of the Italian music theater. Ghiaurov here misses the sardonic negativism of the best devils but supplies rounded vocalism elsewhere. Pavarotti's Faust represents one of his most millifluous, sensitive contributions to his recent discography. A little more centered tone would have improved Freni's poignant Margareta; Caballe's authoritative Helen of Troy sounds like the voice that launched a thousand imitators. Color and lyricism dominate over formal niceties in the conducting of De Fabritiis, who died shortly after the completion of these sessions.

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