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Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff
Ambrogio Maestri (Falstaff), Barbara Frittoli (Alice Ford), Massimo Cavalletti (Ford), Yvonne Naef (Mistress Quickly), Eva Liebau (Nannetta), Judith Schmid (Meg Page), Javier Camarena (Fenton), Davide Fersini (Pistol), Martin Zysset (Bardolph), Patrizio Saudelli (Dr. Caius), Domenic Gloor (Robin), Felix Breisach (Video Director), Sven-Eric Bechtolf (Stage Director), Rolf Glittenberg (Set Designer), Marianne Glittenberg (Costume Designer), Jürgen Hoffmann (Lighting Designer), Chorus of the Zurich Opera House, Ernst Raffelsberger (Chorus Master), Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House, Daniele Gatti (Conductor)
A production of Zurich Opera House, NHK and Unitel Classica, recorded live at the Zurich Opera House (March 25 to April 1, 2011) – 126’
Booklet in English, German and French – Subtitles available in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese and Korean
C Major Ref #: 711108

Falstaff dismisses the notion that Giuseppe Verdi couldn’t excel in comedy after his dismal reception of Un giorno di regno (1840). Verdi’s strong connection to dramatic and melodramatic clauses would thus appear as the ultimate irony in ending his operatic career with one more commedia lirica based on a combination of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV. Three years in the making, great anticipation filled the seats in La Scala on February 9, 1893. The response, though not necessarily negative, was more of bewilderment for Falstaff is an amazingly ingenious score and ripe for analysis.

This Zurich Opera rendition, in the hands of Sven-Eric Bechtolf, really works. Somehow Rolf Glittenberg’s minimal set design allows a keener focus on the singers’ lyrical interpretations and incisive gesticulations. Video Director Felix Breisach uses nicely blended camera angles during poignant moments and wastes no time with extraneous details. The economically minded pacing of Falstaff is wonderfully addressed with excellent detail under conductor, Daniele Gatti.

The Set Designer’s wife, Marianne, brings to stage an amalgam of costuming from varying periods that’s both contemporary, yet traditional. It has pleasing connects. The couple has been working on European operatic stages for many years, and this particular production is no exception when it comes to a quality presentation.

The principal cast is first rate. Ambrogio Maestri’s corpulent clown comes across more as a buffo (i.e. Bartolo in Il barbiere di Siviglia) instead of a lecherous fool, bringing about a higher degree of politesse. His beautifully driven baritone voice folds into many, if not all, characters with humorous reflect. Barbara Frittoli heads the female contingent with wonderful accentuations, that’s well supported within her quartet: Yvonne Naef’s Mistress Quickly is nuanced with diminutively feigned responses while Meg Page, sung by Judith Schmid, has eye popping and eye catching responses especially during the laundry basket escapades ending Act II. Eva Liebau possesses pristine and resilient qualities as Nannetta that are nicely matched with her betrothed Fenton, performed by Javier Camarena, even though he comes across a bit stiff and inflexible. The bumbling duo of Davide Fersini and Martin Zysset as Pistola and Bardolph, respectively, add amusing encounters with Falstaff, and their disappearance behind outside windows under tutelage of Bechtolf’s blocking is simple, yet pleasingly light and whimsical.

The adage, “Less is more”, aptly fits this Zurich Opera production. By far, extraneous details are put on the sidelines, allowing greater clarity and intended focus on the Shakespearean characters themselves and awash in the musical brilliance of Giuseppe Verdi. This Falstaff is a fabulous and entertaining visit to the opera without all the fluff.

Christie Grimstad




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