Arrigo Boito: Mefistofele


Edited by Antonio Moccia (2023)

NR 142254

This Edition is a first critical survey of Mefistofele in the version performed in Bologna in 1875. The autograph, preserved at the Archivio Storico Ricordi, was examined by William Ashbrook in 1998, on the occasion of the facsimile reissue of some of Ricordi’s opera production books between 1990 and 2002. The American scholar, identifying in the manuscript the different types of paper and the possible dating of their use, also highlighted how it contains numerous variants whose dating is difficult to ascertain.

As is well known, the 1875 version stemmed from a profound reworking of the opera that met with catastrophic failure on the evening of 5 March 1868 at La Scala. To briefly summarise what can be deduced from a comparison of the librettos: if the ‘Prologue in Heaven’ came close to its definitive arrangement perhaps as early as December 1871 (performed in concert form in Trieste), it was with the 1875 performance in Bologna that the first and second Acts were considerably shortened; the third Act modified; the original fourth Act and the symphonic Intermezzo entirely deleted; Act five (the fourth in the 1875 version) modified and expanded with the scene of Faust’s death. It is generally agreed that Boito endeavoured to come to terms with the expectations of the listeners of the time, cutting parts perceived as excessively long and introducing forms that were more palatable and familiar to the general public. It effectively dampened the great effort of dramaturgical innovation that he had originally conceived, looking above all to the experiences beyond the Alps. Unfortunately, the 1868 score has not survived and its autograph was altered to convey the later version.

The edition and its sources
The present edition uses a plurality of witnesses, both manuscript and printed. While it is probable that the final touches can be traced back to the final phase of the composer’s life, the few structural changes to the 1875 version took place in the first years, if not months, of the opera’s life. Mefistofele is a special case within the philology of 19th-century musical theatre, because although the autograph has been preserved to this day, it cannot be used as the main source. In fact, the definition, both structural and detailed, of the text was consolidated over time. Boito updated the autograph as much as he could, almost completely omitting changes in practical performance information such as metronomes, articulation marks, stage captions and other details. The document immediately lost its authority due to the way the Copisteria Ricordi worked. At the time, the publisher made a copy of the autograph in loose fascicles, which became the sample from which the copyists made the manuscript copies to rent to opera houses, in a system similar to that of the medieval pecie. The copyist’s sample immediately became the reservoir for corrections and variants that went on to transform the textual condition of the work. It is also evident that this way of working for the publisher was particularly suited to Boito (but similar methods can be found in the early works of Franchetti and Puccini, slightly later), who used the performances to better specify his writing and to intervene on the aspects that he found less satisfying on hearing, leading the publisher to incorporate into the scores what could be useful for the performance.

From 1875 until the mid-1890s, Mefistofele was thus disseminated through manuscript copies that are now dispersed. Between 1894 and 1896, Ricordi engraved a new master of the score (catalogue number 98100) using either one of the dispersed copies or the same sample from the Copisteria. Although manuscript, the new master was intended to be reproduced mechanically. This was later corrected over the decades and a particular copy of it was kept by the publishing house, in the Rental Office, to correct materials that had already been printed and bound: it proved useful in capturing the stratification of corrections and variants made to the text of the master over time. The main source of the present edition is a printed score published in 1919 (catalogue no. 115310), which the author, assisted by Mario Smareglia, supervised. The antigraph of this one is certainly a specimen of the late 19th century master, from which it has inherited some rather obvious errors, but which in several places recovers lessons from the autograph that had been lost over the decades, or had been set aside by choice.

Other valuable sources have proved to be the various issues and editions of the printed reductions: in particular, the first reduction for voice and piano has helped to place some variants and details in time. In some places, editions in other languages (the one with the double Italian-English text; the French one; and those for piano and piano four-hands) have been useful. The collation of the librettos of the first performances was equally crucial in order to identify and place in time certain structural variants that affected the second and third Acts in particular. The text of the printed libretto was stabilised in 1881: published on the occasion of the major revival at La Scala, it was never again modified by the publisher. Finally, the Disposizione scenica (opera production book) put in place by the publisher in June 1877 proved to be rich in information.

The Prologue with and without Toscanini’s interventions
Boito scrutinised and accepted several interventions by certain performers. For example, a Ricordi editor pointed out that few bars in the Clarinet parts of Act I were a modification desired by Toscanini and accepted by the composer. Other changes and variations can probably be attributed to Luigi Mancinelli, who conducted the opera in Rome in 1877. The present edition, however, does not include an extensive series of orchestral rewrites that Toscanini made to the Prologue. They are handed down from a copy of the score of the Prologue alone preserved in the Archivio Storico Ricordi. However, there is no trace of this ‘Toscanini revision’ in the 1919 score. At the moment we can only speculate that these interventions were made after Boito’s death, although the impression is that they were in fact the result of Toscanini’s long association with Mefistofele and in particular with the Prologue, often performed by him in concert form. The behaviour of the publisher does not help to clarify the matter: in fact, until the late 1990s, the Rental Office was able to supply both sets with Toscanini’s interventions and sets without them. At a certain point in time – which is difficult to identify – the editors had created specific print masters for the ‘Toscanini revision’, probably withdrawing those without his interventions. This arrangement may have occurred in the 1960s and in any case after the death of Toscanini. In fact, all major post-war recordings use only the ‘Toscanin’s version’ for the Prologue. In the current state of research, it is not possible to ascertain Boito’s wishes regarding these variants. In the final draft of this edition, the Prologue with Toscanini’s modifications will be included in the Appendices.

The Appendices contain all the material from the autograph that was not included in the final draft of the score. No more performance material is available from these sections. The editor has therefore wished to follow a decidedly more diplomatic line in reconstructing these sections of text, in order to bring out how incomplete the autograph actually is in handing down specific practical-performing instructions.