The Metropolitan Opera Presents: Season 17, Episode 1

Falstaff (10 Oct. 1992)
"Live from the Metropolitan Opera" Falstaff (original title)

TV Episode  -   -  Music
7.9
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Title: Falstaff (10 Oct 1992)

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Cast

Episode cast overview:
Paul Plishka ...
Bruno Pola ...
Frank Lopardo ...
Piero De Palma ...
...
James Courtney ...
Mirella Freni ...
Barbara Bonney ...
Marilyn Horne ...
Mrs. Quickley
Susan Graham ...
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10 October 1992 (USA)  »

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Ties with the 2001 production as the best Falstaff
23 March 2012 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Verdi is my favourite of all opera composers, and I love Puccini, Rossini, Wagner, Richard Strauss and Mozart as well. I do like Falstaff very much, I think the music and situations sparkle when done right and the characters are interesting. In short it is a great opera, that while not quite top 7 Verdi(like La Traviata, Don Carlo, Aida, Otello, Il Trovatore, Rigoletto and La Forza Del Destino, though every Verdi opera is worth seeing or hearing at least once) it deserves to known for much more than just Verdi's last ever opera.

Alongside this production, I have seen the Donald Gramm, Renato Bruson, Willard White, Bryn Terfel and Ambrogio Maestri performances. While every one of them have many virtues and highly recommended, my favourites are this, the Donald Gramm performance(which I think is from Glyndebourne) and the 2001 Maestri one. I have just purchased the Van Dam production and looking forward to watching it.

When it comes to the production values, I loved the rich interiors and the sumptuous Tudor costumes. The sound is clear and the camera work is fluid and interesting, never undermining the comedy or the drama. The picture quality is mostly good as well, if occasionally grainy. Once again, it is fantastic musically, it is such a pleasant if complex score, and the orchestra play beautifully and stylishly, while James Levine's conducting is as brisk and as deeply-felt as ever with the ensembles genuinely exciting.

Paul Pishka is outstanding in the title role, one of his best roles alongside King Phillip(Don Carlo), Fiesco(Simon Boccanegra), Alidoro(La Cenerentola) and Timur(Turandot). I do think his voice is more a high bass rather than a baritone/bass baritone, but hearing and seeing him here as Falstaff you don't care. When I hear Falstaff, I think(usually) of a voice with richness and sonority. Plishka has a very rich and sonorous voice, and also sounds very rounded and beautiful. With the acting, he is wonderfully comic in places with his facial expressions delighting, but he is also compassionate and vulnerable, a side that is just as mesmerising as his Jorg in Stiffelio.

Of the support cast, I was most impressed with Barbara Bonney's Nanetta, beautiful both in voice and appearance(love those eyes) and what a vibrant presence. Her rendition of Sul Fil D'Un Soffio Etesio is simply magical, my personal favourite individual rendition of the production. Mirella Freni is one of my favourite singers of all time, one of my favourite sopranos alongside Sutherland, Caballe and Tebaldi. With some slight harshness occasionally, the singing has a lot of sheer beauty and every word and phrase is shaped musically. She is an alluring presence, and while Alice doesn't show her at her best dramatically(while she is not the best actress, I think people do underestimate her) like Fedora, Mimi, Micaela and Cio-Cio San she is very charming.

Marilyn Horne as Mistress Quickly is delightful, with a voice that is as full and as agile as ever before. Susan Graham is a perfect Meg Page, the role is rather small but this doesn't matter as, as is always the case with such a conscientious artist like Graham, the voice is firm and the acting is astute. Frank Lopardo is one of the better Fentons I've seen, I can understand why one may prefer a more lyric-sounding voice in alternative to Lopardo's spinto-like tone, but he still sings beautifully with no obvious strain and plays the role with purity and charm.

Bruno Pola is good enough as Ford, I prefer Frontoli, Luxon and Nucci on VHS/DVD, if not always at ease as he could be on the dramatic side of things. The singing is lovely though. Bardolph is solid, not too clownish, Pistol also, but I really enjoyed Piero Di Palma, his diction is beautifully enunciated and the tone is very smooth. Overall, a wonderful performance and one of my favourite Falstaffs. 10/10 Bethany Cox


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