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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Falstaff - Opera in three acts (1893)
Sir John Falstaff, an old roué - Ambrogio Maestri (baritone); Alice Ford, a lady of Windsor – Fiorenza Cedolins (soprano); Ford, her husband - Massimo Cavalletti (baritone); Meg Page, another lady of Windsor and friend of Alice - Stephanie Houtzeel (mezzo); Mistress Quickly, a companion of the Windsor ladies – Elisabeth Kulman (mezzo); Nannetta, Alice’s daughter - Eleonora Buretto (soprano); Fenton, enamoured of Nannetta – Javier Camarena (tenor); Pistola, a crony of Falstaff – Davide Fersini (bass); Bardolph, another hanger-on around Falstaff – Gianluca Sorrentino (tenor); Dr. Caius, innkeeper – Luca Casolin (tenor)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus/Zubin Mehta
rec. live, Haus für Mozart, Salzburg Festival, August 2013
Stage Director: Damiano Michieletto
Sets Designer: Paolo Fantin
Costume design: Carla Teti
Video Director: Karina Fibich
Video Format: 16:9 NTSC
Sound formats: PCM stereo, DTS 5.1. DD 5.1
Introductory essay and synopsis: English, German, French
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean
EUROARTS DVD 2072718 [125.00]

Falstaff was the culmination of Verdi’s long career as an opera composer. He believed he had laid down his compositional pen after Aida in 1871 but nearly a decade later, persuaded by his publisher, he embarked on a rewriting of Simon Boccanegra. This involved his working with Arrigo Boito, an accomplished librettist and also a composer. This was an association Verdi came to relish. Ricordi, his publisher, and Boito subtly pointed Verdi towards Shakespeare’s Otello. Verdi loved and revered Shakespeare above any other poet. Slowly, via constant personal contact and communication, Otello was written. It was premiered at La Scala in 1887. Verdi was then 74 years of age and really did think he had finished operatic composition. He had not allowed for Boito. Three years after the premiere of Otello Verdi wrote to a friend "What can I tell you? I’ve wanted to write a comic opera for forty years, and I’ve known The Merry Wives of Windsor for fifty … however, the usual buts and I don’t know if I will ever finish it … I am enjoying myself." Boito’s vital contribution in enabling Verdi to match Shakespeare was in his capacity for drawing out a taut libretto from the plays concerned. Boito had reduced Otello by 90% and in Falstaff he reduces the twenty-three characters in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor to just ten. Verdi wrote Falstaff, his third opera based on Shakespeare, for his own enjoyment. Verdi’s final opera, "my little enjoyment" as he called it, was all he could have hoped and was a triumph at its premiere at La Scala on 9 February 1893. The greatest Italian composer ever was 80 years of age.

The musical form of Falstaff follows that of Otello, the music moving constantly, the concerted ensembles interrupted only occasionally by an aria or duet. Verdi’s orchestration in Falstaff, with its final fugue, presents challenges to even the best of the conductors with a natural feel for the Verdian melodic line and idiom. In this performance, the veteran Zubin Mehta shows signs of his age. He was perhaps influenced by the setting in the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, the rest home for musicians Verdi had built and endowed in Milan and which opened in 1900. The dreaming and languor of old age is the theme at the start as the cast in modern dress fuss round Falstaff in his pullover as he nods off. When Director Damiano Michieletto takes over with his dream, or nightmare, to a more recent, more contemporary date, the whole of what follows is Falstaff’s dream of undertaking the role of Falstaff and including projections of him in the role. The bad news is that gimmick follows gimmick with cast popping up out of trap-doors and a mixing of generations. Verdi’s conception in this, his final great work gets lost. It is a concept not unusual, I gather, in the cinema. However, in an opera where there are tightly defined roles and interactions there is in this instance much confusion, at least for this viewer who, with all modesty, knows the work intimately.

A further insult is the intrusion of people who do not fit. The love duet for the young Fenton and Nannetta are doubled by an aged pair. The converse is true for Mistress Quickly who is seen as a young nurse. Gimmick follows gimmick as Verdi and Boito’s masterful creation gets the modern director concept treatment. Well, I suppose it is Salzburg and the punters will pay whatever it costs for whatever rubbish is put before them, much as at Pesaro. On the other hand, 2013, the year of this staging at Salzburg, was Verdi’s bicentenary. In their tribute to the great operatic composer with this production, and concert performances of Nabucco and Giovanni D’Arco, the latter with Netrebko and Domingo trying to be a Verdi baritone (review forthcoming), Salzburg significantly failed to do the great composer justice in respect of the staging, and in too many instances the casting as well.

Falstaff is Ambrogio Maestri’s calling-card and he at least does himself justice vocally in this mish-mash. There are at least four other productions available on video featuring him, that from La Scala in 2001 under Muti still being one of the best (Euroarts 2051728). As well as this version, I guess there will soon be another of the updated setting shared by the Met and Covent Garden. Maestri has so many tricks, ticks and asides he really could play the role in his sleep. In the meantime this is more nightmare than dream.

Robert J Farr

Previous review (Blu-ray): Paul Corfield Godfrey