Verdi: Falstaff

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Verdi
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Falstaff
PERFORMER: Rolando Panerai, Marilyn Horne, Sharon Sweet, Alan Titus, Frank Lopardo, Piero de Palma, Ulrich Ress, Francesco Ellero d’Artegna, Julie Kaufmann, Susan Quittmeyer; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 60705 2 DDD
What a marvellous opera Falstaff is: a joyous work in which the nearly 80-year-old Verdi scatters tunes about with such prodigality that you would think he was trying to give them away. It has been for the most part fortunate in its many recordings, among them Toscanini’s glorious 1950 broadcast performance and Tito Gobbi’s unsurpassed assumption of the title role for Karajan in 1956.

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Though this new version will probably not replace either of those in anyone’s affections, it is nevertheless immensely enjoyable. A generally excellent cast is welded into a perfect ensemble by Colin Davis, who conducts Verdi’s golden score with a briskness which does not disguise his very evident love of this opera.

All four women in the cast and two of the men are American, but Falstaff himself is that engaging Italian baritone Rolando Panerai. His voice has darkened somewhat over the years, but he is still (in his late 60s) a fine singer and a convincing actor who declaims Boito’s delightful text most eloquently. Ford is strongly characterised by Alan Titus, and Sharon Sweet makes the most of Alice Ford’s soaring vocal line in the concerted passages. Marilyn Horne is a formidable Mistress Quickly, Frank Lopardo and Julie Kaufmann are well matched as the young lovers, and it’s good to encounter the veteran comprimario tenor, Piero de Palma, as Dr Caius.

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The recording’s natural balance between voices and orchestra allows the words to come across clearly, especially important in this enchanting comedy – a much finer work of art than the Shakespeare potboiler on which it is based. Charles Osborne