In fog-dripping, barren and sometimes macabre settings, 11th-century Scottish nobleman Macbeth is led by an evil prophecy and his ruthless yet desirable wife to the treasonous act that ... See full summary »
Bad lip-synching, but a wonderful production all the same
Falstaff is not one of Verdi's best operas, but it is very sparkling and fun, definitely deserving to be more highly regarded than Verdi's final opera. Of the eleven productions I've seen, ranging from outstanding(1956 with Taddei, 1982 with Taddei, 1993 with Plishka, 1976 with Gramm, 2001 with Maestri), very good(1999 with Terfel, 2003 with White, 1982 with Bruson), decent(1987 with Van Dam) to disappointing(2006 with Raimondi), this 1979 performance is one of the better ones and in between the outstanding and very good categories.
The lip-synching is rather poor in places, with delay with what you see and hear and the singers actually looking as though they're not even singing at times. I also wasn't crazy about the overly-stern spoken German narration. However, when it comes to the staging this Falstaff is one of the better staged performances available. The opening scene is comically vulgar and the finale is sublimely nocturnal. Gotz Friederich manages to give the staging a very naturalistic feel to it. The humour is broad like with Falstaff's sarcasm in regard to Bardolfo and Pistola, but the funny kind of broad, but the production succeeds better than most other available productions in emphasising the darker aspects, seen in the Windsor Forest scene with literally a lynch mob.
Visually, the costumes and sets are suitably sumptuous with a lot of colour and attention to detail, the camera work is fluid and the picture quality while sometimes grainy is on the whole acceptable. Musically, the production is even better, with very delicate(almost Mozart-like in style) orchestral playing, the woodwind phrase their music especially beautifully, and George Solti's conducting is forceful and exciting while not too in-your-face like some of his recordings.
As for the performances, they are exceptional, with the highlight of not just the cast but also of the production being the Falstaff of Gabriel Bacquier. His singing is of the beautiful, dark and rich kind, with some very characterful vocal acting. Dramatically, it is one of the more dimensional Falstaffs I've seen, the eccentric and witty parts of the role are evident such as in the outrageously funny dressing up scene in Act 2, while also managing to show the subtle and dignified aspects too like at the end.
Richard Stillwell is lighter in voice in contrast, but captures Ford's jealousy very well. Karan Armstrong's Alice is sympathetic and very vibrantly acted, and while Jutta Ihloff's Nannetta is perhaps rather matronly in look she is charming in the role indeed. The Fenton of Max-Rene Cosotti is convincingly appealing also, with a good voice. Sylvia Lindenstrand sings firmly in the role of Meg Page, and Marta Szirmay is a conniving Mistress Quickly. Peter Maus and Ulrik Cold amusingly contrast in their heights, Cold is a giant compared to Maus, and make for a characterful pair of foils in Bardolfo and Pistola, Maus is not too clownish and Cold's voice is more focused than his Sarastro in Bergman's brilliant Magic Flute film. John Lanigan is good as Cajus.
Overall, didn't care for the lip-synching or the narration, but the singing, intelligent staging and the musical values make this Falstaff a more than worthwhile viewing. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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