This production from 2001 is a recreation after an
historical staging from 1913 at the Teatro Verdi in Busseto, originally
conducted by Toscanini in celebration of the 100th anniversary
of Verdiís birth and, this time, of his death. Again it took place in
Bussetoís tiny (328 seat) theatre and the audience, well behaved, looks
a bit shoe-horned into the space. It is a relief to be able to say of
the staging that it is entirely watchable and appropriate insofar as
it looks as Verdi must have expected. The cover scan above is representative
of the style throughout. There are no great coats, no machine guns and
no-one is in military dress so one can relax and enjoy without resorting
to any philosophical navel-gazing. The sleeve note would have one believe
that the reduced orchestral forces were also an "authentic"
decision. Given the size of the pit the word "necessary" comes
to mind. However, with Muti in charge of proceedings this is a vital
performance and no musical excuses are needed.
The filming is frequently in close up and this makes
one very aware of the costumes and make-up (good) and that the cast
spends much time watching the conductor (not so good). This apparent
need to keep taking directions from Muti may be the reason why the performance
does not quite have the "fizz" that is expected of any really
outstanding Falstaff rendering. It would be invidious to pick out any
particular member of the cast because they all seem good. The complex
stage business so necessary in this paramount piece is carried off with
skill but constrained enthusiasm. What this staging reminded me of most
was a company production á la ENO or WNO, as opposed to a "stars"
production. It was all the better for it.
Perhaps the one huge advantage of this Falstaff is
that it is on one disc, and thus cheaper than most CD versions, and
has pictures and subtitles thrown in for free. The menu gives sensible
access points and the opportunity to have subtitles on and off and switch
languages. A producer has annoyingly seen fit to put snippets of the
music behind the menus, but that is what the mute button is for! Since
opera is primarily a visual medium and the picture quality is good this
has to be worth buying. But there are other attractions. The sound,
I listened to the DTS soundtrack, is excellent. The stage picture is
supported, not undermined, by the surround sound. The voices are clean
and the words audible, the orchestra has a certain spaciousness which
justifies those expensive rear channels without planting one in the
pit. The pretence of being there is aided by the opening credits scrolling
over scenes of the garden around the theatre and the gathering audience.
Thankfully this same audience is quiet except to applaud vociferously
at the ends of acts. Given the realism of vision and sound and the quality
of performance one can just spend a night at the theatre in oneís own
home and enjoy Verdiís finest opera unalloyed.