Notes and Editorial Reviews
Rather than the slightly overweight, everything-underlined, very broadly comic approach favored by just about every conductor who ever touched this great work, Claudio Abbado here gives us a more intimate comedy and the only "big" character is the eponymous Falstaff. What Falstaff is, essentially, is a story about middle-class people into whose midst comes a larger-than-life (in every way) character who disrupts their egos and everyday lives. While the Merry Wives are indeed clever, they're everyday women and Ford, Fenton, and Caius are merely human beings, with wishes, dreams, jealousies, control issues, and foibles. It is only Sir John who exists on a plane apart from the rest of the Windsorian world, and Abbado makes this
clearer than any other maestro.
Furthermore, no conductor--at least on disc--leads this opera slowly, but Abbado is very quick indeed, even whizzing past Toscanini by a hair. His approach is lighter than Toscanini's, with the delicately scored moments truly chamberish and the big, lumbering moments less gigantic as well. It's a valid concept and I must admit to liking how "witty" rather than "funny" Abbado makes the opera; perhaps I've tired of booming mezzos intoning "Reverenza" as if it were sitcom shtick and of Pistol and Bardolph as being a sort of Abbott and Costello. I realize that this is very personal (and I find Toscanini's--and Solti's--readings wonderfully funny), but here you have it.
But there are universal truths as well, and here is one: This set is wonderfully cast. Most controversial is Thomas Hampson's Ford. We are accustomed to a juicier, more "Verdian" sound, with a bite and certain amount of rage. However Hampson, who I can find a trifle precious, is very human here, and his Ford shows weaknesses as a person rather than being portrayed as a tyrannical father who deserves to be punished. He's just out of his weight category when he meets Sir John--as is everyone--and I love his performance. Dorothea Röschmann and Daniil Shtoda are a very flavorful set of young lovers--perhaps the most personality-filled on discs. The unknown (to me, at least) Adrianne Pieczonka sings Alice with certainty and nice tone, Stella Doufexis' Meg is a perfect team member, and Larissa Diadkova as Quickly is absolutely first rate, up there with Simionato and Barbieri, but with a far less aggressive style. She never overstates anything, perfectly in keeping with Abbado's viewpoint. The smaller parts are all well taken, without a weak link.
And then there's Bryn Terfel in the title role. I think he sounds a bit young for Sir John, so easy are the high notes, so round the tone, so sure is he of the notes themselves. But this is a left-handed criticism, and having made it, it doesn't matter. What does matter is his interpretation. It's not only massive, it's a bit brutal. In Shakespeare, of course, Falstaff actually kills someone on stage (in Henry IV, Part 2, I believe) and so our view of him as a loveable rogue (or whatever term you're in the mood for) is crushed. Terfel apparently knows what a bully Sir John is and he shares it with us. I recently saw him in the role and got the same impression: here is a nasty man, one who can be laughed at because he loses and is made a fool of in the situations we encounter him in in this opera, but he is not a nice man at all. Terfel snarls and is genuinely malevolent in his dealings with Pistol and Bardolph, and he sounds as if he's a step away from date-rape with Alice. I'm not willing to make a value judgment here, but Terfel's Falstaff makes for a Falstaffian experience unlike those felt with any other bass-baritone, and it's not a laff-riot. It may be Shakespeare, but is it Verdi?
The Berlin Philhamonic holds no surprises; this is ravishing playing, if a bit soft-edged, which is clearly in keeping with Abbado's interpretation. The engineers apparently agree with Abbado and have kept the experience of this opera intimate; what has been lost is immediacy and more than a bit of deep bass. Everything is clear (just listen to the graceful and precise playing after Ford's Monologue) and there is charm galore, but this is not your grandfather's Falstaff.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi
Bryn Terfel (Bass Baritone),
Thomas Hampson (Baritone),
Adrianne Pieczonka (Soprano),
Dorothea Röschmann (Soprano),
Daniil Shtoda (Tenor),
Larissa Diadkova (Mezzo Soprano),
Anthony Mee (Tenor),
Enrico Facini (Tenor),
Stella Doufexis (Mezzo Soprano),
Anatolij Kotscherga (Bass Baritone)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra,
Berlin Radio Chorus
Written: 1893; Italy
Date of Recording: 04/2001
Venue: Great Hall, Philharmonie, Berlin
Length: 113 Minutes 27 Secs.
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