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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Falstaff (1893)
Falstaff - Willard White (bar)
Ford - Marcus Jupither (bar)
Fenton - Yann Beuron (ten)
Dr Cajus - Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (ten)
Bardolfo - Santiago Sánchez Jericó (ten)
Pistola - Paolo Battaglia (bass)
M Alice Ford - Geraldine McGreevy (sop)
Nannetta - Miah Persson (sop)
M Quickly - Nora Gubisch (mezzo-sop)
M Meg Page - Charlotte Hellekant (mezzo-sop)
Chorus of the European Academy of Music D’Aix-en-Provence
Paris Orchestra conducted by Enrique Mazzola
Stage Director: Herbert Wernicke
Film Directed by Chloé Perlemuter
Regional Code 0 Picture Format 16:9
Sound formats Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, PCM Stereo
Production 2001
Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. Notes include a synopsis of the libretto, a brief account of the history of the opera and a note on the production.
ARTHAUS MUSIC 100344 [125.00]
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This production was filmed live at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence 2001. The key attraction for the purchaser is the presence of Willard White as Sir John Falstaff. Though this may seem an odd role for the singer, his acting and singing quality are such that one forgets entirely his presence as the only black singer in an otherwise white cast. In fact he gives the best performance I have ever seen in terms of subtlety of expression. By that I mean both his musical intelligence as well as his superbly understated acting. Having recently reviewed an enjoyable traditional performance with an appropriately fat Sir John, the sight of Willard White in the dapper getup of an Edwardian country gentleman, looking barely overweight, was a surprise. What this lent the performance was a feeling that Falstaff might very well succeed in seducing anyone he wished. Far from being unappetising he seemed (my wife confirmed!) very attractive. However, this focussed one on his immorality and self-absorption rather than his ludicrousness; characteristics that Verdi clearly wished to emphasize in his subtly worked final opera. The remaining cast are all very fine. I particularly enjoyed Pistola and Bardolfo who must have come from the Arthur Daley school of business ethics and are all the more enjoyably disreputable for it. The various wives make a first class ensemble and are for a change clearly delineated as different characters, not just a collection of interchangeable foils for Falstaff.

The setting takes a little adjustment: it looks like the inside of a huge wooden barn and had Copland’s Rodeo cowboys suddenly emerged from the wings I would have been unsurprised. But with the assistance of multiple doors, trapdoors and high openings this unpromising acreage of brown varnished wood did provide a visually acceptable backdrop. Only the huge set of antlers (get it?) that hang over the action in the final scene make for significant visual variety. The video director has chosen to keep the cameras well back for too much of the opera so there is a slight feeling of viewing it through the wrong end of a telescope. By contrast Willard White’s first class acting make the close ups utterly absorbing, he expresses volumes with the merest twitch of an eyebrow.

The orchestral sound is spacious and somewhat recessed. The voices too are back from the microphones. The surround sound, I reviewed the disc using the DTS soundtrack, is effective in placing the listener within the Festival auditorium. On my setup the disc defaulted to PCM Stereo and no subtitles, I would have expected a different default, at least to one of the surround formats. However, it was easily changed.

Since I have the luxury of being able to choose, I’d go for this one over the TDK/Muti reviewed recently, entirely because this one has the liveliness the Italian production rather lacked. But if you expect this masterpiece to look as Verdi expected, buy Muti. Both make excellent purchases and are of course cheaper than most 2CD issues of the opera, coming as they do on a single DVD.

An unusual but intelligent reinterpretation of Verdi’s great masterpiece with Willard White superb in the title role.

Dave Billinge


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