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Friday, November 29, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Falstaff

Verdi has the last laugh in this new production.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Falstaff (Ambrogio Maestri) goes out on the tiles in this new
Des McAnuff production, coming to the Met on Nov. 6.
Photo by Catherine Ashmore © 2012 The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.
For most of his long career Giuseppe Verdi was known for writing tragedies, from the family drama of his first opera Oberto to his masterpiece Otello. For his final opera and last musical utterance, he finally turned to comedy. Working with librettist Arrigo Boito (his collaborator on Otello), he created Falstaff from the Shakespeare play The Merry Wives of Windsor. 

This new Met production is imported from the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. It is by director Robert Carsen and is the Met's first new staging of Falstaff since 1964. Comic bass Ambrogo Maestri, who opened the Met last year as Dr. Dulcamara in L'Elisir d'Amore sings the title role. He is surrouded by a stellar cast: Angela Meade, Stephanie Blythe, Lisette Oropesa and Franco Vassallo.

Falstaff has never been the most popular of Verdi's operas. In his last work, Verdi eschewed the traditional structure of aria and choruss for a complex interplay between characters, engaging in rapid-fire dialogue with occasional flights of lyric beauty. The score is filled with musical jokes, from the mock two-part church canon in the first scene to the final fugue on the words "Tutto e' mondi la' burla" ("All the world's a joke.")

Falstaff opens Nov. 6. A Live in HD broadcast is scheduled for Dec. 14.
Recording Recommendations:

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Herbert von Karajan (Decca (originally Philips) 1980)
Falstaff: Giuseppe Taddei
Ford: Rolando Panerai
Fenton: Francisco Araiza
Alice: Raina Kabaivanska
Nanetta: Janet Perry
This is Karajan's second recording commercial of Falstaff, made with the superb forces of the Vienna Philharmonic and an excellent, mostly idiomatic cast of singers. Giuseppe Taddei had forty years of experience making opera recordings, and he is a superb, finny Falstaff. The comic ensemble singing and choral work (all-important in this dialogue-driven opera) are excellent, as is the razor-sharp orchestra under Herbert von Karajan. Note: this set has been issued on Philips, Deutsche Grammophon and Decca, and frequently turns up in used CD stores.

Los Angeles Philharmonic cond. Carlo Maria Giulini (Deutsche Grammophon, 1982)
Falstaff: Renato Bruson
Ford: Leo Nucci
Fenton: Dalmacio Gonazales
Alice: Katia Ricciarelli
Nanetta: Barbara Hendricks
This Carlo Maria Giulini set came just two years later, and was a dream project for the venerable Italian conductor. He is an expert Verdian, bringing out the complexity and detail of the score and reveling in the inside musical jokes that are hidden in the dense orchestral fabric. Bruson is brusque and characterful as Falstaff. The real gem here: Barbara Hendricks' Nanetta: her little duet with Fenton in Act I is worth the purchase price.

Tickets for Falstaff are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office starting August 11.

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