Verdi: Falstaff

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Falstaff
PERFORMER: Michele Pertusi, Carlos Alvarez, Bülent Bezdüz, Alasdair Elliott, Peter Hoare, Darren Jeffrey, Ana Ibarra, Maria José Moreno, Jane Henschel, Marina Domashenko; London Symphony Chorus, LSO/Colin Davis
‘Falstaff is another Mozart opera,’ Colin Davis told a recent interviewer. Well up to a point, but it’s mood rather than music that binds the composers together. And on the podium for this amalgam of concert performances of Verdi’s autumnal masterpiece Davis’s approach is anything but Mozartian with tempi on the distinctly brisk side. The short prelude to Act III is whisked away and Nanetta’s ‘Fairy aria’ is taken at a gallop, although Maria José Moreno never loses her seat. Of course it’s good to have the orchestra all around the singers with so many details in the score nuanced in a way that’s impossible in the opera house, but sometimes Davis’s tutti drown his singers. Giulini’s old recording for DG set the best standard here, though alas this has been recently deleted; John Eliot Gardiner’s more recent recording for Philips – on original instruments – also sets admirable standards. Ana Ibarra and Marina Domashenko make a merry pair of wives, with Ibarra’s Alice almost as sexily mezzo-ish as Domashenko’s Meg. Jane Henschel’s Quickly, however, is a disappointment – smudgy diction and no claws in her characterisation. And there really aren’t as many gales of laughter as there ought to be in this Falstaff. Michele Pertusi’s Falstaff is neither the source of wit in himself or in others. It’s not that one necessarily wants Bryn Terfel’s ‘Bull-in-the-Garter’ characterisation for Abbado on DG, but there’s more to Falstaff than singing. Andrew Shore in English on Chandos shows what vocal characterisation ought to be, a Falstaff that steers the opera between merriment and melancholy. For Davis only Carlos Alvarez’s Ford sails us towards tragedy, wonderfully so in his Act I jealousy aria – you can almost hear Iago whispering in his ear. Christopher Cook