Notes and Editorial Reviews
Stage designer Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s hand can be seen throughout this production. It’s particularly evident in the expert way he handles movement within groups of people, and the personal motivations he finds for every physical action. In another
production I recently reviewed, Ford held back his men from a swift assault on the fat knight’s supposed hiding place in act II out of last-minute fear—which is patently ridiculous. Ponnelle’s solution for the slowing of pace in music and libretto at that point is to have Ford gather his outstretched forces, then send some of them around for a two-pronged attack that
would cut off Falstaff’s only line of retreat. This takes time, and it works.
So does a beautiful moment in the short love scene of act I, played for the most part behind a pair of white bed sheets hung out to dry in the sun, and pulled forward to hide Fenton and Nanetta. In a moment the great French film director René Clair would have appreciated, the back lighting reduces the physical tangibility of the lovers to courtly silhouettes. Would that Ponnelle had used some distancing technique during Nanetta’s act III song as the Queen of the Fairies, but the camera work here (and occasionally elsewhere) is too addicted to close-ups. Elizabeth Gale’s very physical beauty gets in the way of the ethereal charm of the verses; but in general, the camera is used imaginatively, with plenty of angled shots that break open the linear relationship between audience and stage.
Ponnelle’s casts usually worked intensively with him to produce well-limned characters. This one is no exception. Gramm doesn’t display the greatest stage presence, most comic manner, largest or richest voice as the lead. Instead, he supplies the most theatrically focused knight I’ve seen. Two examples will suffice. Instead of simply launching into the second string of explanations upon honor’s nature in his great act I monologue, Gramm first displays exasperation, followed by momentary weariness: he sees the message isn’t getting through to Bardolph and Pistol, and is willing to try again, supplying the impetus for his further comments. Similarly, when Quickly later stops his stage exit with news of his letter’s success to Meg, this Falstaff doesn’t simply listen. He displays dazed delight, for clearly his sexual attractiveness surpasses even his own estimation. Whether through Gramm’s industry, Ponnelle’s direction, or (as is likely) some combination of the two, his Falstaff succeeds in bringing more of the manner of Prince Hal’s tutor in all things wanton to the opera, and tones down the usual Merry Wives’ clown.
Also deserving of being singled out are Benjamin Luxon’s dark-sounding, dramatically responsive Ford, and Nucci Condo’s ironic, rich-voiced Quickly. They are the best of a good cast without a single obvious weakness.
The analog visuals appear to have deteriorated at the beginning of the tape, with hazy images and ghosting during the first few seconds in act I. Matters improve shortly, however, and with the exception of some ghosting on moved light sources, the rest of the production is both clear and attractive. The stereo audio track is good, with miking that slightly favors the orchestra. Subtitles are provided in English, Italian, French, German, and Spanish.
All in all, this is one of the best productions of
that I’ve seen for vividness of personal detail, and definitely worth viewing.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Sound Format: PCM Stereo
Picture Format: 4:3
Region Code: 0 worldwide
Menu Languages: German, French, English, Spanish
Subtitle Languages: Italian, German, French, English, Spanish
Running Time: 118 mins
Works on This Recording
Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi
Nucci Condo (Mezzo Soprano),
Kay Griffel (Mezzo Soprano),
Donald Gramm (Bass Baritone),
Benjamin Luxon (Baritone),
Elizabeth Gale (Soprano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra,
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Written: 1893; Italy
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