by Giuseppi Verdi
with Paul Plishka, Mirella Freni, Marilyn Horne, Barbara Bonney, Susan Graham, Bruno Pola, Frank Lopardo
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, James Levine Conductor.
It is to composer and librettist Arrigo Boito and his constant pestering of the octogenarian Verdi that there remained within him one last great comedy fighting to get out that we owe this absolute miracle of an opera.
Produced in 1893 as Verdi turned 80 there is much in this masterpiece that can be identified as a modernist neoclassical work. The use of short motifs instead of long arioso melodic lines, the spry and reduced orchestral textures and the lack of a single 'stand and deliver' dramatic declamatory aria all serve to make this more of a 20th century work than an example of 19th century late-Romanticism.
Despite his many years of writing for the stage, Verdi refuses to give in to either age or time. There is an eternally youthful freshness to this score that is often breathtaking, culminating in the celestial final scene in Windsor Park. Like the enchanted Forest of Arden in As You Like It, we are in a world of nocturnal magic and human redemption that an Ovidian Verdi transforms into a wondrous fugue proclaiming that all the world's a joke.
Any successful production of Falstaff must celebrate this magic.
This new DVD release of a performance filmed in October 1992 features Franco Zeffirelli's venerable 1964 production, his first appearance at the Met. Although it occasionally shows its age it is strong enough to overcome some minor shortcomings. Visually stunning in depicting Tudor era Windsor, there is something deeply satisfying in the way the singers interact with their surroundings.
Each performance has a calm organic rightness at its core that transcends the frenetic pace of the opera, giving this Falstaff a sense of balance that always remains sure-handed. Paul Plishka is a wonderfully affecting Falstaff, comic yet vulnerable. Mirella Freni is superb as Alice Ford. Barbara Bonney as Nannetta and Marilyn Horne as Mrs. Quickly are excellent. The cast submerge themselves in their roles.
James Levine's conducting of this difficult score approaches perfection. In many ways his vision of the opera is reminiscent of von Karajan's brilliant EMI recording from the 1950s. The Met orchestra are at their early 1990's performance peak. DGG have cleaned up the nearly two decade old video, which is slightly fuzzy but clear. DTS and PCM sound are both excellent with DTS providing a nice sense of space and presence to the proceedings.
And here's a taste of what's to come...