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Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Falstaff (1893)
Geraint Evans (bass-baritone) – Sir John Falstaff; Antonio Boyer (baritone) – Ford, married to Alice; Juan Oncina (tenor) – Fenton; Hugues Cuénod (tenor) – Dr. Cajus; John Lewis (tenor) – Bardolfo, seguace di Falstaff; Hervey Alan (bass) – Pistolo, seguace di Falstaff; Orietta Moscucci (soprano) – Mrs. Alice Ford; Antonietta Pastori (soprano) – Nannetta, figlia di Alice e di Ford; Oralia Dominguez (mezzo) – Mrs. Quickly; Fernanda Cadoni (mezzo) – Mrs. Meg Page
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vittorio Gui
rec. live, Glyndebourne, 29 July 1957
Bonus Tracks: Il trovatore (1853):
act 2, scene 1 (from Stride la vampa to the end of scene)
act 4, scene 2 (from the beginning of scene to Ai nostri monti)
Oralia Dominguez (mezzo) – Azucena; Luigi Ottolini (tenor) – Manrico; Orchestra and Chorus from the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires/Fernando Previtali
rec. live, Teatro Colón, 11 August 1963
GALA GL100.784 [75:28 + 75:44]

The Italian conductor Vittorio Gui (1885–1975) left a handful of excellent opera recordings, most famous perhaps Il barbiere di Siviglia from the early 1960s with Victoria de los Angeles, Sesto Bruscantini and Luigi Alva. It was re-released some years ago in the GROC series. I gave a positive review of his Cetra set of Aida from around 1950 and also a live recording of Cherubini’s Medea from Berlin. The present Falstaff from Glyndebourne is also a highly attractive performance with some really splendid singing. Gui’s reputation as a Rossinian makes him well suited to Verdi’s comic masterpiece with its mercurial lightness and wit; he certainly delivers a spirited reading. The sound is boxy but clear and Verdi’s exquisite scoring comes over well. Tempos are swift but not extremely so and the whole performance unfolds with elegance and fizz but also lyrical beauty. The final scene in Windsor’s park with its impressionist shimmer is as chamber musically transparent as one could wish. Of course the recording can’t compete in sonic splendour with Karajan’s legendary studio recording of approximately the same vintage but it is still good to have Gui’s view of this opera and as a reading this version rubs shoulders with Karajan’s.
Gui also has a cast that compares favourably with alternative versions. Geraint Evans’ reading of the title role is already documented on Solti’s Decca recording from the mid-1960s but by then his voice had begun to dry out. Vocally this earlier recording is superior while the interpretation is just as good as in the Solti version. Evans had been singing Falstaff since 1950 and was deep inside the role. It was actually at Glyndebourne that he first created the fat knight. The big set-pieces are sung with such expressiveness as to challenge even Tito Gobbi’s reading - for Karajan. It is also a pleasure to hear the under-recorded Oralia Dominguez’s fruity Mrs. Quickly; the opening scene of act 2 when she comes to Falstaff is superb music theatre. Juan Oncina is another singer who is still remembered and his Fenton is lyrical and honeyed even though he can’t quite compare with Alva for Karajan or Kraus for Solti. Antonio Boyer, who sings Ford, was a new name to me. At first I thought him too light-voiced for the role - more a voice for bel canto. He is certainly expressive in his big outburst in the second act – a marvellous portrait of a supposedly cuckolded husband whose world has suddenly been turned upside down. Orietta Moscucci, Alice, was another name previously unknown to me. Early in the opera she didn’t sound well at ease but she grows through the performance and in the final scene she is superb. The third ‘unknown’ singer, Antonietta Pastori, turns out to be a real find; I wonder what became of her. She is one of the most delightful Nannettas I have heard and her aria in the Windsor scene is celestial. Fernanda Cadoni in the ungrateful role of Meg Page does what she can and Bardolfo and Pistola are suitably boisterous. It is a real treat to hear Hugues Cuénod’s characteristic whitish voice as Dr. Cajus. He was a real mainstay at Glyndebourne for many years, giving more than 470 performances there.
The audience are markedly amused by the performance, which otherwise is notably free from disturbing stage noises.
The bonus tracks, two scenes from a performance of Il trovatore in Buenos Aires, lets us hear more of the admirable Oralia Dominguez. She gives a deeply penetrating portrait of Azucena. The act 2 scene where she tells Manrico about the child she threw into the fire is possibly the most spine-chilling reading I have encountered. Ai nostril monti in the final scene is inward and completely in tune with the instruction in the libretto: ‘Between sleeping and waking’. Luigi Ottolini as Manrico is more ordinary. His is a sturdy tenor with, in the second act, a limited supply of nuances; in the final scene he sings with much more feeling. Se m’ami ancor and Riposa, o madre are quite touching. It should be mentioned that the sound is variable and the final scene is marred by quite heavy distortion. With singing of the calibre of that of Oralia Dominguez it is possible to withstand such disturbances.
The booklet has a track-list and liner notes that mainly focus on the most famous of the singers. I would have liked something about those who are not so famous, especially since they are so good.
Readers who already own the Karajan or the Solti (or both) should stick to them but I don’t think anyone getting this one as a complement will feel disappointed.
Göran Forsling


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