Yet they still come. It sometimes seems that the only
complete opera recordings that emerge from the recording studios these
days are those supported by the Peter Moores Foundation. The Foundation
sponsor the "Opera in English Series" on the Chandos label. Whereas
some of this series have assembled the pick of UK singers as a special
project, others, as here, have been based on actual productions at English
The part of Falstaff can be seen as the ultimate
challenge for the buffo or character baritone. Andrew Shore has had
the part in his repertoire for some years and featured in the magical
(except for the last scene) 1997 Production for Opera North. This transferred
to ENO with Shore as the common component. His voice was never really
refulgent or fruity enough for an ideal Falstaff. In the theatre, distracted
by his considerable histrionic abilities, it was easy to overlook this
deficiency. On record he has neither the ideal variety of tonal colour
nor the legato needed, with the voice spreading under pressure. All
that being said his characterisation is good and his diction even better.
Ashley Holland, as Ford, also leaves something to be desired. His diction
is variable, but he covers his tone and varies his inflections well
to convey Ford's many emotions in his jealousy aria. Disturbingly, the
voice beats (not quite wobbles) at the climax.
The lighter voiced women all sing well with Yvonne
Kenny a spunky Alice whilst Susan Gritton's ethereal Nannetta is well
matched by Barry Banks' youthful sounding, well enunciated, high tenor,
brilliantly conveying Fenton's ardour. The Mistress Quickly lacks the
required steadiness as well as the strength of tone the part calls for.
The minor parts are variably taken with wobble balanced by Clive Bayley's
well focused, if lean toned, Pistol, a highlight.
Falstaff was the culmination of Verdi's long career.
His orchestration, with its finale fugue, represents challenges to even
the best natural Verdians; I would not put Paul Daniel in that category.
He could gainfully sit at the feet of Ted Downes or Mark Elder and learn
what conducting Verdi's music is about. Changes of dynamic or tempo
are not sufficient. He is not helped by the lack of atmosphere in the
recording (unusual from Chandos) with the voices and orchestra set well
back. Karajan's 1956 early stereo recording has greater immediacy if
lacking warmth. However, if you want Falstaff in English, it's "Hobson's
Choice" there is not likely to be another recording!
Robert J Farr