PERFORMER: Domenico Trimarchi, Roberto Servile, Maurizio Comencini, Enrico Facini, Julia Faulkner; Hungarian State Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Will Humburg
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660050-51
Despite the larger-than-life presence of its eponymous anti-hero, Falstaff is essentially a team opera, giving both seasoned pros and quick-witted novices the opportunity to marry immaculate bel canto delivery to the subtlest of verbal nuance. As in all good comedy, timing and technique are the keys, and although these Naxos singers, one for one, cannot compete with the really memorable portrayals from recorded history, they make a fine enough collection at budget price. All are adequate and some, notably Julia Faulkner’s Alice Ford, acquit themselves with high honour.
But I wish the same could be said of Domenico Trimarchi’s Falstaff. One might excuse the unsteady vocal production if it were allied to a measure of vocal allure and a singular view of the role, but he is easily overshadowed by the straightforward but finely sung Ford of Roberto Servile, and compared with Gobbi for Karajan (EMI), or even Bruson for Giulini, is simply a non-starter.
Will Humburg’s conducting, as in his Naxos Barber of Seville, too, is frustrating. At times, aided by scintillating playing from the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra, the results can be utterly delightful, as in Ford/Falstaff’s exit routine at the end of Act II Scene 1; at others, he drives too hard at the expense of Verdi’s cantabile lines and one longs for more warmth and flexibility. Antony Bye