An operatic dark prince 

click to enlarge Bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov sings in the San Francisco Opera's season-opening production of "Mefistofele."
  • Bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov sings in the San Francisco Opera's season-opening production of "Mefistofele."

Even with opera's diabolic trio under his belt, Russian bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov doesn't quite seem devilish.

Yet despite his movie-idol good looks, he has sung the hero's nemesis in Gounod's "Faust" and Berlioz's "The Damnation of Faust," and he will appear in San Francisco this week in the title role of Boito's "Mefistofele"; all three works are based on Goethe's treatment of the Faust legend about a man who sells his soul.

Although the San Francisco Opera advertises his Mefistofele as a role debut, Abdrazakov sang it two years ago in a concert performance in Valencia, with conductor Nicola Luisotti and Ramon Vargas as Faust. They all will perform again as the opera opens its 2013 season with a gala performance Friday at the War Memorial Opera House.

At 37, Abdrazakov is much too young for the seasoned, mature sound one expects from the kind of regal-infernal voice for the Prince of Darkness, but everything in his career came early ... and big.

When he was 22, he sang the title role of "The Marriage of Figaro" in St. Petersburg's famed Mariinsky Theater, a part requiring a lighter sound than those in Abdrazakov's "Russian bass" repertory. But he says, "I am a basso cantabile, I feel comfortable with all those roles."

What does he consider his range? "I am flexible, certainly C to [low] C, I don't need to go lower."

His look, easygoing manner and ready smile belie his ancestry. He says he can trace his family tree to Genghis Khan (not a charmer). On his mother's side, he has Tatar blood, and his father's family descends from centuries of Bashkirs — a Turkic people, described by 10th-century writers as "a belligerent nation." He is anything but that.

Abdrazakov was born in Ufa, then the capital of the Soviet Republic of Bashkortostan, now the most populated Russian republic. His parents were artists — his mother a painter, and father a director.

Abdrazakov began acting in his father's stage and film productions at age 4, and very early in his singing career, he won prestigious vocal competitions in Russia and around Europe. His 2000 victory at the Maria Callas International Television Competition in Parma, Italy, led to his debut at La Scala the following year.

The San Francisco Opera's spectacular revival of Robert Carsen's production features hosts of angels (the opera chorus led by Ian Robertson and extras). The dual role of Margherita and Helen of Troy is being sung by Patricia Racette, who also has taken over the title role of the San Francisco Opera's premiere of "Dolores Claiborne" due to Dolora Zajick's indisposition.



Presented by San Francisco Opera

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, Sept. 20 and Sept. 24; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11, Sept. 17 and Oct. 2; 2 p.m. Sept. 29

Tickets: $23 to $385

Contact: (415) 864-3330,

Note: Friday's opening performance is part of Opera Ball 2013, "The Garden of Good and Evil," which is sold out.

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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