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CD: Naxos Direct

Michael William BALFE (1808-1870)
Falstaff - Grand opera in three acts (1838)
Marcel Vanaud (bass) - Falstaff; Majella Cullagh (soprano) - Mrs. Ford; Sam McElroy (bass) - Ford; Barry Banks (tenor) - Fenton; Tara Erraught (soprano) - Annetta; Nyle Wolfe (bass-baritone) - Mr. Page; Victoria Massey (mezzo) - Mrs. Page; Brendan Collins (bar) - Giorgio; Edel O’Brien (alto) - Mrs. Quickly 
National Chamber Choir of Ireland
RTÉ Concert Orchestra/Marco Zambelli
rec. National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland, 25-26 September 2008. DDD
RTÉ LYRIC FM CD119 [75:52 + 67:27]
Experience Classicsonline

Michael William Balfe was born in Dublin and started his life as a musician playing in the orchestra of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, at the age of 15. He trained in Italy and in Paris with Rossini as his mentor. He only returned to England after seven further years in Italy, where he had been singing leading operatic roles. Back in London, he launched his own operas, of which he wrote forty-three in total, in several different languages. These were a great success -  especially his best-known The Bohemian Girl.
In 1838, the director of the Italian Opera in London asked Balfe to compose a new work and Balfe chose the Merry Wives of Windsor for the story-line. A very short deadline meant that he had to re-use some material from earlier operas. The premiere took place the same year at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. The work was an immediate hit, and was critically acclaimed.
This performance of Falstaff was recorded live at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, and is a premiere recording, as well as being of the first full performance of the work to take place since 1838, the year it was premiered. One can easily see how it would have delighted audiences at its premiere. The music is really quite brilliant – scintillating, original, witty, well-constructed and assured. It is here given an excellent. The soloists, too, give their all. That said, Sam McElroy, who plays Ford, has perhaps not quite got the power and control of the other soloists. Barry Banks (here Fenton) is particularly excellent, and Marcel Vanaud as Falstaff plays his part well. My only hesitation comes from personal taste rather than an actual critical point of view – and that is that I would prefer more lyricism and beauty in the voice lines, rather than the harsher, louder style that is generally used for later Italian opera, such as Verdi.
Nevertheless, it is an excellent disc – good performances, a wonderful rarity, and music that is, quite frankly, up there with Rossini.
Em Marshall

see also review by Raymond Walker



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