Major Operas | Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito | High Romantic


Composed: 1866–67
Premiered: 1867, Venice
Libretto by the composer after Goethe’s Faust


Mefistofele wagers with God that he can win Faust’s soul.

Act I

Crowds celebrate Easter Sunday in Frankfurt. The aged Faust is bored and watches a mysterious friar, who follows him back to his study. When Faust opens his bible the friar reveals himself as Mefistofele, who agrees to Faust’s yearning for one perfect moment in exchange for his soul. The contract is signed.

Act II

In Marta’s garden Faust, now rejuvenated, courts Margherita while Mefistofele entertains Marta. Faust declares his love and, wishing to see her alone, offers Margherita something to make her mother sleep more deeply. Mefistofele and Faust watch witches gathering for their Sabbath in the Harz Mountains. The witches hail Mefistofele as their king and present him with a glass globe, in which he sees the vileness of the world before smashing it. Faust sees a vision of Margherita in chains.


Margherita is in prison, having drowned her baby and unintentionally poisoned her mother. Mefistofele brings Faust to her cell to urge her to escape with him. Margherita confesses her crimes and says that they might be happy together far away. She recognizes Mefistofele as the devil, prays for forgiveness and dies rejecting Faust, while a celestial choir announces her salvation.

Act IV

Mefistofele has taken Faust back to classical Greece, where they encounter Elena (Helen of Troy) obsessed with the burning of the city. Faust is entranced by the surroundings, but it is not to Mefistofele’s taste. Faust and Elena pledge their love for each other.


Faust is old once more. Wearying of his life he seizes his bible, praying for salvation. Mefistofele offers more adventures, but Faust dies. Mefistofele has lost his wager.

Personalities | Arrigo Boito | High Romantic | Opera


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