‘Ecco il mondo’ is sung by Mefistofele in Act 2 Scene 2 of Boito’s opera. Last March I presented 11 recordings of basses singing the same character’s first act aria – ‘Son lo spirito che nega’. Below are 11 versions of ‘Ecco il mondo’. The words in Italian and an English translation are presented at the end of this piece; the translation takes a lot of license with the original text. Mephisto has a very jaundiced view of our planet and its dominant species. Looking around, it’s hard to blame him. In this article I won’t present any biographical information on singers who appeared in the previous post.

Adamo Didur as Boito's Mefistofele

Adamo Didur as Boito’s Mefistofele

The Polish bass Adamo Didur (1873-1946) sang more than 900 performances at the Met between 1908 and 1932. He sang the title role in the American premiere of Boris Godunov at the Met and also was the first King Philip at the Met in Verdi’s Don Carlo. This recording (Didur Ecco il mondo) was made two years before his Met debut and shows the powerful voice that characterized the first half of his career in New York.

Nazzareno De Angelis (1881-1962) was especially known for his impersonation of Boito’s devil. De angelis Ecco il mondo. His singing is full-throated and without any hint of flutter unlike his younger contemporary Tancredi Pasero (1893-1983). Ecco il mondo as Pasero sings it is more typical of the style of vocal production prevalent in the 19th century – ie a rapid vibrato pervades his singing. One’s reaction to this vibrato is largely a matter of taste.

Alexander Pirogov

Alexander Pirogov

Alexander Pirogov (1899-1964) was one of the biggest stars of the Bolshoi Opera from the 20 to the 50s. He appeared outside of Russia only once when he sang Boris Godunov in Finland. He sings the aria in Russian. He has the bass voice typically associated with Russians bassos – deep, dark, intense, and rich – a truly grand instrument. Pirogov Ecco il mondo

Giulio Neri (1909-58) had a voice that was almost frightening in its size and depth.  Neri Ecco il mondo.

George London (1920-85) was a bass-baritone. Born in Montreal, he grew up in Los Angeles. He got his start in the opera business by appearing with Mario Lanza and soprano Frances Yeend as part of the Bel Canto Trio in 1947-48.

Lanza, Yeend, and London

Lanza, Yeend, and London

He made his Met debut on opening night of the 1951 season. He went on to sing 264 performances at the Met until his career was cut short at the age of 46 because of a paralyzed vocal cord. London was a great actor in addition to a singer of extraordinary art. The first performance I ever attended at the Met was a Tosca in 1954 that featured London as the evil police chief. He blew everyone else off the stage. The audience was still calling for him to take a curtain call after the final act even though Scarpia dies in the second act. His Scarpia was as good as Tito Gobbi’s which I saw at the Met a little over a year later. I don’t think London ever appeared in Mefistofele, but he would have been superb in it.  London Ecco il mondo

Cesare Siepi (1923-2010) was one of the 20th century’s greatest and most elegant basses. This recording is taken from a live performance in 1972. It’s a fine rendition except for the flat high note at the end. Siepi Ecco il mondo

Bonaldo Giaiotti (born 1932) sang 414 performances at the Met between 1960 and 1989. While he sang leading roles, they were rarely the big juicy bass parts. His recording of  Ecco il mondo gives a good approximation of how he sounded in the house when he was at his best. This clip is from a complete performance of the opera in 1987.

René Pape (born 1964) has been one of the most prominent basses of the last two decades. He’s been singing at the Met since 1992. Best known for German roles he has also achieved great recognition as Boris Godunov, as Gounod’s Méphistophélès in Faust, and as Philip II in Don Carlo. His reading of Ecco il Mondo is one of the fastest I’ve heard.

The Italian bass Carlo Colombara (born 1966), though not as well known as Pape, has sung at most of the world’s major opera houses. He has appeared 24 times at the Met all in either Aida or Nabucco. He has a large and bright bass. His interpretation of the aria is very convincing. Carlo Colombara Ecco il mondo

I’ve saved the best for last. Samuel Ramey (born 1942) owned this role when he was in his prime. This recording is taken from a live performance in San Francisco and is by far the slowest, but Ramey’s vast technique and incisive interpretation make it compelling. A tour de force. Ramey Ecco il mondo

Boito’s Mefistofele succeeds only when a great bass appears in the title role. When one does appear it is an intriguing work that seems like a sport compared to the rest of the standard Italian operatic repertory.

Ecco il mondo,
Vuoto e tondo,
S’alza, scende,
Balza e splende.
Fa carole intorno al sole,
Trema, rugge, dà e distrugge,
Ora sterile or fecondo.
Ecco il mondo.
Sul suo grosso
Antico dosso
V’è una schiatta
E sozza e matta,
Fiera, vile, ria, sottile,
Che ad ogn’ora si divora
Dalla cima sino al fondo
Del reo mondo.
Fola vana è a lei Satana,
Riso e scherno
E’ a lei l’inferno,
Scherno e riso il Paradiso.
Oh per Dio!
Che or rido anch’io,
Oh per Dio! ecc.
Nel pensare ciò
Che le ascondo.
Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!
Ecco il mondo!

Here is the world,
Empty and round.
It rises, falls,
Dances, glitters,
Whirls about
Under the sun,
Trembles, roars,
Creates, destroys,
Now barren, now fecund-
Such is the world.
Upon its huge
And rounded back
Dwells an unclean
And mad race,
Wicked, subtle,
Proud, vile,
Which lorever
Devours itself,
From the depths to the heights
Of the guilty world.
This proud
And foolish race,
Amid vanities
And orgies,
Laughs, exults,
Merrily, heedlessly,
Wealthy, proud,
And swells up
On the foul globe!
Of the guilty world!!!