A very pleasant surprise
F. Behrens | Keene, NH USA | 08/18/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Not very good" was how a friend of mine many years ago described the music to a certain opera he had just heard on a CD. Perhaps if he viewed the new Arthaus Musik DVD release of Salieri's (100 023), distributed by the excellent Naxos of America people, his opinion might change. Now granted that it comes nowhere close to the standard set by the Verdi opera and it lacks the great beauty of the Vaughan Williams "Sir John in Love," it is almost as good as Nicolai's "Merry Wives of Windsor" and quite respectable on its own terms. As in Boito's libretto for the Verdi work, Salieri's librettist, Carlo Prospers Defranceschi, cut the Shakespeare play down to its essential plots and even more so. The subplot of Fenton and Ann Page is gone. Indeed so are Mr. and Mrs. Page, the second merry wife here becoming Mrs. Slender. The incident of Falstaff in drag is included, however, and Mr. Ford gets two jealousy arias, where Boito gives him one. There is a very funny scene in which Mrs. Ford comes in disguise (since there is no Mistress Quickly in this version), pretending to speak German and a little English, while Falstaff professes to speak only English and a little German--all the while the two are singing in Italian, laced with German phrases and a little French thrown in! There is a little more secco recite than modern audiences would care to have, and not many of the tunes of the arias and ensembles will linger in the memory after only one hearing; but the score is in general bubbly and well composed by the man who almost certainly did not murder Mozart. The cast is strong throughout. Boasting many American singers, it includes John Del Carlo (Falstaff), Teresa Ringholz (Mrs. Ford), Richard Croft (Mr. Ford), Delores Ziegler (Mrs. Slender), Jake Gardner (Mr. Slender), Carlos Feller (Bardolfo), and Darla Brooks (Betty). Del Carlo gives us a tall, not really unattractive Falstaff (except for the paunch), while Ringholz shows good comic flair in her two disguise scenes. Extra humor is offered by the zesty subtitles, written in rhyme, that paraphrase rather than translate the Italian text. Arnold Oestmann conducts the Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart at the Schwetzinger Festspiele. The video is excellent, the subtitles are clear. And the disc runs at about 20 minutes longer than the 120 minutes shown on the back cover. A delightful addition to any musical collection."
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 08/31/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This production is about as sparkling a work as I've seen in quite some time. Salieri's score shows very heavy influences of his rival, Mozart, in particular his overture reminded me a good bit of Nozze di Figaro. It's perhaps easy to see (or hear) why
Mozart outshone Salieri. Mozart (we know) was genius who accomplished the unbelievable and amazing in such a brief span of life. Nonetheless, Salieri is very worthy of exploration and his works, this in particular, should be heard by modern audiences. I can't think of a better production to do the introduction than this ArtHaus DVD.
In the title role, we are treated to a spirited, infectiously joyful performance by John Del Carlo. He looks exactly like my perfect Verdian Falstaff and his music is inspired. Salieri's recitatives are often as exciting as his arias and ensembles, and he's fairly daring in his structure of this work with ensembles, recits, arias, double recits, etc. flowing in and out of each other was masterful creativity.
What a delight to see Delores Ziegler as Mistress Slender. Ziegler's comic timing is nearly the match of Del Carlo's and again Salieri has given his cast some tough music.
Speaking of tough music, the assignment Salieri gives Ford (as opposed to Verdi's Ford, we get a tenor), is met with near athletic aplomb and virtuosity by my favorite tenor, Richard Croft. Croft plays the jealous Ford with the skill of a great actor, his body language, even when he's just listening and reacting to Slender's scheming reveals much about this character. Croft throws out some dazzling vocal fireworks in his 2nd scene's aria and recitative. While some critics complain that even late Salieri sounds older than early Mozart, I won't agree. Some of his music, (aforementioned aria in particular) almost sounds Rossinian! Ditto the Act I quartet with the Slenders and the Fords.
Teresa Ringholz does not possess my favorite type of voice, but as Mistress Ford, she shows herself to be a great comic actress and she shows a sense of Salierian style (?!) and her voice actually grew on me to the point where she had me cheering her on several times.
I can think of a few listers who won't want to hear this, but I think anyone looking for something a bit off the beaten path (okay, more than a "bit" off it), thoroughly tuneful, and with near nonstop comic action by performers who are clearly having a damned good time, I can't recommend this enough.
Michael Hampe's stylish sets and costumes are a perfect fit for the tiny Schwetzingen stage making it appear both much larger and smaller than it really is. Arnold Ostman and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony are inspired sounding like they're racing off to a fire. Once or twice that makes it feel as though a singer might not make it (there really is some virtuoso singing going on) but they do and the time flies by.
It's difficult not to fall in love with Salieri's sparkling opera!
Pay No Heed ...
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 03/10/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"... to the griping review about sound quality, written in 2001. The sound is quite fine, resonant and well balanced. The singers and orchestra are well integrated, which matters especially because Salieri was "progressive" for his era in treating the voices as integral to the orchestral whole. I have to wonder how much of this sound track was studio-recorded. I watched lips and couldn't notice any giveaway.
Pay no heed also to the persistent denigrating comparisons between Antonio Salieri and a certain brash young Salzburger of the same era. Salieri was an extremely successful composer and a highly sought-after teacher (his students included Beethoven and Schubert) precisely because he was very skilled and very entertaining. His "Falstaff" is exactly that: entertaining! The compositional art is there, to be sure, but the emphasis is on entertainment. Likewise, this production from the Schwetzinger Festspiele of 1995 aims to entertain. The costumes are amusing, the stage action is well executed, the characters are comically realized, the music itself is brash and funny, and the libretto is hilarious. The English subtitles are not literal translations, but rather witty paraphrases in rhyme. The funniest portions of the libretto are the scenes when Mistress Ford disguises herself as a German and comes to Falstaff with a love assignation; even if you speak neither Italian nor German, you'll know how comically the two singers are butchering the two languages.
Of course, the libretto should be funny, since it's based on Shakespeare's slapstick "Merry Wives of Windsor". If you've read that play, or seen Verdi's "Falstaff", you won't need a synopsis to know in advance the purpose of the humongous laundry basket on the side of the stage. The basic story of Salieri's Falstaff is the same as Verdi's. Frankly, I prefer Salieri's realization over Verdi's until the last scene, at night beneath the gnarled oak, when Verdi finally reaches musical sublimity. Up until then, Salieri is wittier and prettier.
Instead of mismatching Salieri with that precocious Salzburger, one would do well to hear how much Salieri must have influenced Rossini. This "Falstaff" predates Rossini's first opera by more than a decade. Of course, both composers probably drew from a common musical language of their period, but Salieri was the 'progressive', the composer who set the standard for comic opera for the next generation. Musically and dramatically, "Falstaff" is extremely well structured. The mood never sags. The comedic effect builds, as it does in the best of Rossini. The rapid-patter arias in Falstaff presage the brilliant use Rossini would make of that device in later operas. The frantic ensembles that conclude scenes in "Falstaff" are just as funny, and just as compositionally bold, as in Rossini. I'd say, if this "Falstaff" had been written by Rossini, it would hold a cherished place in the standard repertoire of opera companies today. It's only the "bum rap" that Salieri has received from the Romantic Idolatry crowd that has kept his music off the stage.
The 'modern' quality of Salieri's orchestration is magnified on this DVD by the timbres and style of the modern instrument orchestra. One might ask, why resurrect an opera of 1799 and stage it in the best restored/preserved jewel box opera house of Europe, and then perform it with a modern orchestra and with singers who have no commitment to 'classical era' vocal technique? Yes, one might ask, but I won't. The orchestra is excellent. The singing is worthy, especially the singing of the males in the cast. Tenor Richard Croft is glorious in the role of the jealous husband, Mr. Ford, and that's opportune because Ford has the loveliest aria in the whole show to sing. By the way, most of "Falstaff" is aria and arioso; there's very little recitativo, another indication of Salieri's comparative modernity. Baritone Jake Gardner is both dramatically and vocally effective as the "straight man" Mr. Slender. The aging baritone Carlos Feller is wonderful as Bardolfo, in this script the perennial grumbling valet of an abusive master. That master is naturally Falstaff, sung by John Del Carlo, whose physical presence dominates the stage as it should. Del Carlo is a massive figure, made more massive of belly by exquisitely funny costuming. His voice is just as massive, robust, blustery, artfully bombastic. A perfect Falstaff, in short.
I'm less enthusiastic about the three women in the cast, Teresa Ringholz as Mrs. Ford, Delores Ziegler as Mrs. Slender, and Darla Brooks as the maid Betty. Ringholz acts her role with comic aplomb, but her singing reveals the weaknesses of modern vocal technique applied to 18th C music. Her voice isn't agile enough to embellish the passages appropriately. All three women sing tunefully, resonantly, but without style. Don't let that deter you from listening to this performance, however! Musically, it's the men who need to have the right stuff, and indeed they do."