Falstaff may not be among my favourite Verdis, but the comedy sparkles and the music is wonderful especially in the ensembles. In short, it deserves to be known more than just Verdi's final opera. And so far this 1982 Salzburg Falstaff(I haven't yet seen the 1956 performance who I believe also has Giuseppe Taddei) beats the 1976 Glyndebourne and 1993 Met performances as my favourite production of the opera(the others being Terfel's, White's, Bruson's, Maestri's and Raimondi's).
The period sets and costume are very handsomely rendered, accurate and colourful. The camera work is not as beautiful as 1970's Cavalleria Rusticana, 1968's Pagliacci and 1974's Otello, but it is focused on the drama always and doesn't feel too static. Likewise with the staging, with the highlights being the patter-like quartet, the flirtatious scene between Alice and Falstaff and especially the hilarious scene where Mistress Quickly lures Falstaff to his tryst with Alice and/or Meg. Musically, the production's wonderful. The orchestral playing is always lush and done with energy, and Herbert Von Karajan's conducting while slightly on the slow side is never dull.
Giuseppe Taddei is a superb Falstaff, the best on DVD in my opinion, and for me matched only by Gobbi on record. Taddei's experience in both dramatic(Carlo Gerard, Amonasro, Scarpia) and buffo(Belcore, Figaro, Leporello) really shows in his interpretation, very witty and funny yet touching and vulnerable. His performances in 1967's L'Elisir D'Amore and 1955's Andrea Chenier has seen him in fresher voice, but the voice is still of a dark, beautiful quality. Raina Kabaivanska I have also seen in better performances like Tosca in 1976's Tosca, Nedda in 1968's Pagliacci and Leonora in 1978's Il Trovatore. However, she is fun and expressive dramatically as Alice, and her voice still shows off her beautifully coloured tone and exquisite pianissimos.
Rolando Panerai I also like very much, especially as the definitive Sharpless on record opposite Tebaldi and Bergonzi, and I like his Marcello and Silvio too. His vocal production is lovely and warm still, even more so in the aforementioned roles, and in his acting he conveys Ford's anguish very well while never resorting to buffoonery. Christa Ludwig has always been one of my favourite mezzo sopranos especially as Brangane under Bohm, Suzuki under Karajan in Ponnelle's film of Madama Butterfly and Octavian under Karajan. Mistress Quickly is not one of her best roles I feel, however her singing is musically shaped, sexy even in her reverenzas, and she does well in conveying Mistress Quickly's conniving and sense of comedy in luring Falstaff to his tryst.
Janet Perry is a lovely Nanetta, and I personally think her great solo does have the magic needed. She has been better though as Sophie(Der Rosenkavalier), Adele(Die Fledermaus) and Barbarina(Le Nozze Di Figaro), in those roles there is much of an amorous, sparkling quality that was there in her Nanetta here but not as much. Francisco Araiza provides stylish and quite nuanced(a quality missing in his Tamino) singing, singing confidently without sounding like he is singing like he is doing Donizetti. His acting, something I find a lot with Araiza excepting his wonderful Ramiro, is a little ordinary and stiff, then again Fenton is not the most interesting character of the opera anyway.
Trudelise Schmidt is a firm and well sung Meg Page also, and I also thoroughly enjoyed Heinz Zednik's ironic Bardolfo( if a slightly less edgy quality than his superlative Loge and his amusing Basilio(Mozart not Rossini)), Piero De Palma and Federico Devia's equally effectively characterised Cajus and Pistola. Overall, truly outstanding with a great cast. Sure makes his want to view Taddei's earlier outing, where I imagine he will be in fresher voice. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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