ALBUM TITLE: Verdi
PERFORMER: Ambrogio Maestri, Barbara Frittoli, Roberto Frontali, Juan Diego Flórez; La Scala Chorus & Orchestra/Riccardo Muti; dir. Ruggero Cappuccio (Teatro Verdi, Busseto, 2001)
CATALOGUE NO: DV-OPFAL
A contrast of ancient with modern, though not to the latter’s advantage. The later production, designed and directed by Herbert Wernicke for the 2001 Aix Festival, is set in a plain wooden box with the characters in late 19th-century dress. Though his Falstaff is impressively voiced, Willard White’s portrayal of the title role suffers from Wernicke’s dispiriting staging. What humour there is is heavy-handed and one-dimensional. Other vocal performances are mixed: the merry wives are dull and the Ford weak. Yann Beuron’s Fenton is acceptable but only in Miah Persson’s poised Nannetta does the singing rise to memorable heights. Enrique Mazzola’s conducting is adequate but no more. There are no presentational frills other than booklet biographies and a note on Verdi and his comic masterpiece that informs us that ‘in [Wernicke’s] production the opera begins to take on something of a nightmarish quality’. Quite so.
There are no extras of substance with the 2001 performance from the tiny theatre in Verdi’s home town of Busseto either, which is a wasted opportunity given that the visuals were recreated from a production originally staged for the centenary of Verdi’s birth in 1913. Only 20 years on from Falstaff’s premiere, it gives us a good idea how it must have looked to its first audiences.
That suffices to make it historic, but what makes it outstanding is that Riccardo Muti and La Scala forces decamped to Busseto to perform it, with leading singers of today offering detailed interpretations. It’s hard to imagine a better Fenton than Juan Diego Flórez, a better Quickly than Bernadette Manca di Nissa, or even a better protagonist than the 31-year-old Ambrogio Maestri. George Hall