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This is an opera lover's dream: it is a star-studded La Scala production of Falstaff but it is performed in the intimate setting of the Teatro Verdi in Busseto. I don't know what it cost to see this magnificent production but, judging by the fur coats entering the auditorium, it must have been molti denari. Still, at least the occasion was filmed for the benefit of financially embarrassed music lovers.
Ambrosio Maestri is a huge and imposing figure as Falstaff. His costume and make-up make him look rather like Pulcinello, which I suppose is appropriate for this very Italianate production. Maestri has a sonorous baritone which I particularly enjoyed in his sorrowful: "Va, Vecchio John.". I also enjoyed Roberto Frontali's Ford. His "È sogno o realtà?" is reminiscent of Iago in Verdi's earlier Shakespeare adaptation.
This production can even afford the illustrious Juan Diego Flórez in the comparatively minor role of Fenton. His soaring tenor is an unexpected bonus as are his duets with soprano Inva Mula as Nannetta.
I particularly enjoyed the four mistresses: Anna Caterina Antonacci displays a sly sense of humour as Mrs Meg Page and, to my surprise, Barbara Frittoli, as Mrs Alice Ford also displays a talent for comedy. Bernadette Manca di Nissa as Mrs Quickly acts as go-between as these two ladies torment Falstaff.
This opera is essentially an ensemble piece and every part is well cast. Musically, it is the ensembles that are most breathtaking. In the first act there is the quartet for the four mistresses followed by a nonet. The finale is a magnificent fugue for all ten main characters, the last thing that Verdi wrote. What a way to go.
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