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Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff
Bryn Terfel (Sir John Falstaff), Barbara Frittoli (Alice Ford), Roberto Frontali (Ford), Bernadette Manca di Nissa (Mistress Quickly), Desirée Rancatore (Nannetta), Diana Montague (Meg Page), Kenneth Tarver (Fenton), Gwynne Howell (Pistol), Peter Hoare (Bardolph), Robin Leggate (Dr. Caius), George Freeburn (Landlord), Ben Cooper (Robin), The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Royal Opera Chorus, Terry Edwards (Chorus Director), Bernard Haitink (Conductor), Graham Vick (Director), Paul Brown (Set and Costume Designer), Thomas Webster (Lighting Designer), James Whitbourn (DVD Producer for Opus Arte)
Filmed in The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, (December 1999) – 157’ (Plus bonus supplement)
Opus Arte Ref #: OA 0823D – 16/9 Anamorphic - Dolby digital stereo/5.1 Booklet in English, French and German – Subtitles available in English, French and German

Covent Garden finally reopened its doors in December 1999 after an arduous three year renovation. As they say, “timing is everything.” Overambitious scheduling caused György Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre to be booted from the top of the list and replaced by initial performances of Verdi’s Falstaff (in some respects fortuitous and appropriate to honor Great Britain’s famous playwright through Italian music.)

Bryn Terfel, currently front and center as Wotan at The Met’s Ring cycle, has also made an indelible impression as one of the best Falstaffs to surface. Paul Brown’s corpulent cad is obscenely and occasionally half naked (frequently sprouting an erection.) Terfel’s voice, a superb match for the Verdian notes, is heightened with true-to-life acting. Barbara Frittoli ’s Alice Ford demonstrates wonderful gesticulations atop her secure soprano register, just as Ford’s husband, performed by Roberto Frontali, resounds with splendid assuredness particularly during the jealous tirade, “È sogno?” Bernadette Manca di Nissa as Mistress Quickly gives us a constant chuckle during “Reverenza!” in reserved decorum; Kenneth Tarver’s Fenton hits us with lyrical buoyancy. Vocally, Nannetta’s anticipated soufflé lightness gives way to Desirèe Rancatore’s slightly weighty harshness, but she interprets the young girl’s naivete well.

Graham Vick draws from historic values by focusing on Giovanni Boccaccio’s Medieval short stories, the primary source for Giuseppe Verdi’s inspiration. Physicality is placed front and center while the verbal dialogue is soft-pedaled. In order to create greater audience intimacy, Vick chooses an angled stage thereby permitting the production’s vibrant colors and textures to pop out. Costumes and sets lead us into a storybook fantasyland, an almost Medieval Alice in Wonderland. While a palette of boldness dictates Acts I and II, a simpler collection of black and white (good and evil), and a dusky blue backdrop (complete with a crescent moon) prevails in Act III’s Hearne’s Oak (the rolling around of deer’s heads by the principals is rather hokey.) Bernard Haitink undoubtedly blends orchestra and singers thoughtfully and attentively.

The sound recording seems somewhat varied. In particular, Act I Scene 2 (The Windsor Women) is muffled and less audible in comparison to others. Clarity gets better as the performance progresses. A downside: no where do we see screen titles delineating each act or scene. All credits are listed at the end, assuming everyone is familiar with Falstaff. This could have been eliminated had the pithy illustrated synopsis of Falstaff, narrated by James Naughtie, (found in the supplemental section) been the entrée into the DVD. This is an excellent overview.

If one can get beyond the accentuated, hairy, pot-bellied grotesqueness of Sir John Falstaff, and the phallic protuberances displayed by Pistol and Bardolph, then this recording is one to explore.

Christie Grimstad




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