Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Verdi - Falstaff|
Actors: Renato Bruson, Katia Ricciarelli, Leo Nucci, Barbara Hendricks, Lucia Valentini-Terrani
Director: Ronald Eyre
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Todd K | 12/30/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Moderation in the pursuit of opera is by no means a vice, and this traditional and highly refined 1982 Covent Garden FALSTAFF surely is preferable to the 1999 performance from the same house. The latter (on Opus Arte DVD) is the well-cast but hyperkinetic and comedically overexplicit Terfel/Vick/Haitink production, notorious for such touches as Falstaff's waterbed, his carrot-shaped suggestion of "excitement" in one scene, and for its eye-searingly bright Day-Glo colors. Still, while admiring much of what the 1982 has to offer, one may have the gnawing feeling that it is a bit pedantic -- more of an exercise in corrective point-making than a vital performance. Maestro Carlo Maria Giulini and stage director Richard Eyre work together to create a FALSTAFF of unusual restraint and sobriety (a small example, among many that accumulate: neither the Falstaff nor the Ford is allowed to sing his imitation of Alice Ford in the usual falsetto). One is grateful for their scrubbing away of that which is overly broad and vulgar, but something has been lost in wit and brio, and the conservative stage direction tends toward squareness. The performance seems to improve as it progresses, but parts of it -- notably Giulini's exquisite shaping of the final scene's music -- ultimately register more strongly than does the whole. The old-fashioned sets are inoffensive but drab (a somewhat shadowy picture quality contributes), and the Windsor Park representation, a single tree of enormous diameter, would have been put to better use in a production of Wagner's RING.
The distinguished cast carries out its assignments to varying effect. Renato Bruson does wonderfully expressive things with his large, dark eyes and with the part of his face that is not hidden by Falstaff's glued-on facial hair. His opportunities to demonstrate his comedic skills are limited, and he seems hemmed in as a result (there is a wittier Falstaff than this in him, probably even today). He is shrewd enough to make the most of the Giulini/Eyre milieu, seizing all the verbal opportunities presented by Falstaff's dramatic Act III soliloquies at the Garter Inn and Windsor Park. Leo Nucci, not usually a great favorite of mine, is just about perfect as this blustering, vaguely puritanical Ford. Dalmacio Gonzalez, young and handsome and inherently good-natured, is a Fenton who looks as though he stepped right out of the pages of the libretto, but he is less satisfying vocally, and may not have been in best form when this was taped. He cannot muster adequate volume to sing out assertively over Verdi's brilliant orchestral/vocal chatter at the close of Act I Scene 2, and his Windsor Park arietta is satisfactory at best. The women are beautiful -- Brenda Boozers's witty Meg Page extravagantly so -- and they are becomingly costumed, although it was a bad idea to so excessively pad Lucia Valentini-Terrani's Mistress Quickly. The idea, I suppose, was to make her look enormous to visually reinforce her status as the fat knight's foil, but the effect is not worth the trouble. The mezzo, her middle unconvincingly out of proportion to the rest of her, only looks gingerly and uncomfortable in her movements. She does not have the ideal depth and amplitude of sound for this role (no booming, Barbierian "Reverenza" will be heard here), but she eventually wins the listener over. Like all of the most clever and musical ones, over the course of an evening she can at least partially persuade you that she has overcome miscasting. The finest performance of all is that of Barbara Hendricks, whose small, sweet voice and gracious demeanor make her a first-rate Nannetta. Her singing of the Fairy Queen's song has that sort of purity of tone, directness of phrasing, and unaffected, pristine beauty that make you want to find an opera skeptic immediately and play it for him or her, so sure are you that it will result in conversion. Katia Ricciarelli promises much on paper as Alice Ford; this seems as likely as any role in the repertoire to be her best. But in the event, she alternates attractive and assured vocalism with an unsupported half-voice that strikes me as more appropriate for pop or cabaret. Worse, her acting of the part, rife with hands-on-hips, head-tossing gestures, is subtly alienating, suggesting not the wisdom, savvy, and good humor one desires from an Alice Ford but something coy, self-regarding, very nearly arrogant.
Though video director Brian Large does not bring his best game technically (at a few moments of adjustment, the picture momentarily slips out of focus), he is reliably good in elucidating the action. His clarification of the complicated comedic business in Act II Scene 2 is exemplary, and all the more valuable as the subtitles are more sparse and terse than one wants in this wordy opera. The picture, sound, and packaging are of Kultur's highest quality, which is to say they clear the bar of adequacy. It is a 25-year-old FALSTAFF that looks and sounds like a 25-year-old FALSTAFF, no more and no less. A somewhat recessed recording prevents one from savoring Giulini's typically cultivated balances and sonorities. On my DVD player, there was a notably rough layer change near the beginning of Act II Scene 2. Mileage can vary in such matters, but this was enough of a screen freeze for brief mention. It was placed in a quiet spot so that no harm was done to the music, fortunately.
FALSTAFF is a lucky composition in that it rarely receives a "bad" recorded performance, and no opera is more worthy of being heard and collected in multiple renditions. It is a work that rewards endless study -- the opera written by a very old man is, appropriately, an opera with which a listener can grow old. The Giulini DVD, like its Los Angeles audio equivalent on DG, is one worth having, but short of my top tier. As it happens, there is a DVD performance on EuroArts -- the 2001 Muti/Scala recreation of a 1913 production for the Teatro Verdi, starring Ambrogio Maestri and Barbara Frittoli -- that almost precisely duplicates the strengths of this one, and does much to fill this one's gaps. Both performances feature scrupulous preparation and leadership by a great Italian conductor who has conviction and a strong point of view on the work. Both are traditional in their staging and scenery, attempting to convey an authentic Elizabethan flavor. Both feature casts of pedigree. But Muti/Scala gives us orchestral commentary of altogether more variety, color and energy; does more justice to the crucial comedic elements of the work without skimping on those parts which are reflective, lyrical, or autumnal; is manifestly better at the levels of picture and sound; has a more sympathetically acted Alice; has a voice of precisely the right weight and timbre for Quickly; and in Juan Diego Florez boasts possibly the best Fenton I have ever come across in any medium. There is too much of value in the Giulini performance for me to recommend against it, but "the better is the enemy of the good," as they say, and it does not threaten Muti/EuroArts as my first choice."
Welcome back, Sir John, you were sorely missed!
Plaza Marcelino | Caracas Venezuela | 10/06/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Why it took this superb set so long to be released in DVD format is one of those inexplicable things that seem so typical of the music industry ... Originally released more than 20 years ago, it marked Giulini's celebrated return to live opera after more a decade's absence, encompassing performances in Los Angeles (where at the time he was chief conductor of the LAPO) and London with the same cast save for the smaller parts. DG issued on LP a composite of the LA performances, the London one circulated only on video. Actually, I first got acquainted with the video via a hi-fi stereo "super betamax" tape I purchased at the NY Metropolitan Opera store than with the DG LP's. The betamax release gave way to vhs, but no dvd alternative came along till now. Of course, this transfer to DVD adds considerably in detail and brilliance to this old friend in either of its tape incarnations, as well as it greatly improves the original, dullish sound.
Ladies first: for once we catch Katia Ricciarelli properly cast and in a role that suited her voice like a glove as was that of Alice Ford. She was an outstanding singer, that for some reason decided to tackle roles far heavier than was advisable, a fact that no doubt shortened her career as those roles took their toll on her voice. Her sprightly Alice is joined by the witty and difficult to forget Mrs Quickly of the much-lamented Lucia Valentini Terrani, a remarkable mezzo with good low notes who would not long thereafter and untimely succumb to cancer. The young Nannetta is in the delicious hands (and voice!) of Barbara Hendricks, and Brenda Boozer (a Covent Garden regular whom I haven't encountered again since) is very good as Meg. The ensemble of these female plotters works far better than their individual contributions, remarkable as they all are, would suggest, so good is the understanding between them and the "click" among them.
As for the men, Bruson was the Falstaff of the day, a baritone in the grand italian tradition. He also makes for a fine actor, nuanced and full of debonnair, never the clown others unfortunately choose to portray all to often. Nucci was then at the very top of his form, a mortified Ford who yet never loses his poise. His scenes with Falstaff are a joy to watch and listen to, two consumate singer/actors really doing an outstanding job. Dalmacio González is Nanetta's young lover, Fenton, and his sweet voice is a delight to hear, especially in his last act arietta. The other, minor roles are affectively and effectively assumed by good supporting singers, Bardolph a trifle clowninsh for my taste.
The Royal Opera House Orchestra play magnificently for Giulini, who provides for a golden perspective on this most autumnal of scores, yet an autumn with a crisp, cloud-less sky and a bright day. Myriad details in this wonder of wonders of opera writing shine out from Giulini's baton and mostly relaxed and natural tempi, rapidly affirming in the viewer/listener the notion that this is indeed Verdí's grandest masterpiece, the jewel that shines most brightly among those that adorn a distinguished crown.
The production is firmly rooted in the traditional and is most pleasant to watch. Stage movement is judiciously arranged by producer Ronald Eyre and tastily filmed by Brian Large, and the frequent laughing of the audience reveals that those Londoners present were having quite a good time. The only minus is Kultur's habitual lack of printed material, just a leaflet with the list of tracks."
Karin Singleton | Raleigh, NC | 09/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A great production at the Royal Opera House. The characters are cast beautifully, the acting is superb, and the singing utter delight."