PERFORMER: Ambrogio Maestri, Massimo Cavalletti, Fiorenza Cedolins, Eleonora Buratto, Elisabeth Kulman, Stephanie Houtzeel, Javier Camarena, Luca Casalin, Gianluca Sorrentino; Philharmonia Chor Wien; Vienna Philharmonic/Zubin Mehta; dir. Damiano Michieletto (Salzburg, 2013)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 2072718; Blu-ray: 2072714
This is a strange production, often confusing and, I think, confused. Verdi used most of his considerable fortune to build and endow a place in Milan where retired musicians could live in comfort, the Casa di Riposo. The premise of this production is that Ambrogio Maestri, today’s leading Falstaff, is an inhabitant of the Casa and lies asleep on an adequately massive sofa, the action taking place in his dreams, which are of long-ago performances of this opera that he participated in, though the settings mostly remain the common room where he is asleep. That doesn’t make for clarity of action, and anyone for whom this is the first encounter with Falstaff might find it bewildering. This opera seems to me to be a work that needs setting more or less in the time the text prescribes, though it’s some time since I’ve seen a production that is – why? Here each character is a singer whose peak was presumably about 30 years ago, and much of the text seems silly emerging from our contemporaries.
Zubin Mehta’s conducting of the Vienna Philharmonic is, like everything he does, competent but not special. The sound he elicits from them is too rich, not pointed enough for this sharp, explosive work. The singers are all steeped in their roles, but would put their experience to better effect in a more traditional performance. Maestri remains a classic interpreter of the role; he savours his words, but is constricted in his acting, thanks to the non-demands of Damiano Michieletto’s direction. The same goes for most of the others, a potentially excellent cast who aren’t able to exercise their talents because of the demands of this perverse production. It’s not a write-off, but it could so easily have been much better.