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Falstaff / Verdi, Gobbi · Schwarzkopf · Moffo · Karajan
Giuseppe Verdi, Herbert von Karajan, Tito Gobbi
Falstaff / Verdi, Gobbi Schwarzkopf Moffo Karajan
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (20) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (25) - Disc #2

This Karajan Falstaff has much to recommend it: Fedora Barbieri's Mistress Quickly is a force of nature, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, only slightly affected, is a liquid, appealing Alice Ford, and Luigi Alva and the young Anna M...  more »


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All Artists: Giuseppe Verdi, Herbert von Karajan, Tito Gobbi, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, Nan Merriman, Anna Moffo, Rolando Panerai, Fedora Barbieri, Tomaso Spataro, Nicola Zaccaria, Luigi Alva
Title: Falstaff / Verdi, Gobbi Schwarzkopf Moffo Karajan
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: EMI Classics 1957/1999
Original Release Date: 1/1/1956
Re-Release Date: 9/21/1999
Album Type: Original recording remastered
Genre: Classical
Styles: Opera & Classical Vocal, Historical Periods, Modern, 20th, & 21st Century
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaCD Credits: 2
UPCs: 724356716223, 724356716254

Synopsis essential recording
This Karajan Falstaff has much to recommend it: Fedora Barbieri's Mistress Quickly is a force of nature, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, only slightly affected, is a liquid, appealing Alice Ford, and Luigi Alva and the young Anna Moffo are ideal as the young lovers, Fenton and Nanetta. But the star--as it should be--is Tito Gobbi in the title role. As is usual with this great singing actor, his characterization comes from within--his is a Falstaff born to be deflated, arrogant and self-deluding on a level that is actually funny. And the nice surprise is what good voice Gobbi's in--he's in charge of all of his vocal colors here and he uses all of them well. Karajan's touch is light and, yes, funny, and he treats the opera as the divine ensemble work it is, all leading up to a superb final scene. A good time is had by all--listeners included. --Robert Levine

CD Reviews

The benchmark Falstaff
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 07/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Reference recordings are the touchstone by which all others are judged. The Callas-Gobbi Tosca is the universal example of a recording whose excellence so towers over the field as to bend the artistic vision of every subsequent laborer in the operatic vineyard in homage, conciously or not. Such recordings are extremely rare, perhaps two dozen at best. By such rigorous standards, this 1956 recording of Verdi's miraculous final opera falls short of attaining the lofty status of Reference recording. Rather, it occupies that second tier of presumptive best for a large number (but not all!) of opera devotees to whom the status of favorite recording is defended with rabid zeal. Opera fans are a tough crew, prepared to defend their favorites with a level of 'Mutually Assured Destruction' not seen since the Cold War. It can get positively radioactive in the lobby of the Met between acts. I know, I've seen it often enough.

There is a Golden-Age warmth to this remastered CD. EMI had perfected the business of vocal recordings in the 1950's. Something in the water, perhaps. One can hear it in all of EMI's classic opera recordings of the era. Even the ones in mono (for which we can thank Producer Walter Legge's hatred of stereophonic sound). Recorded in London's Kingway Hall in June 1956, there is a Midsummer's magic in the sparkle with which Gobbi inhabits the role of Falstaff. Recording Falstaff during those long Summer days was an inspiration. Everything about Falstaff screams "more light!". Almost as if the 80 year old Verdi attempted to regain his youth through art. Karajan in his youth - well before illness slowed him considerably - had a clarity of style I have always admired. Listen to the way the woodwinds cavort throughout this recording. They seem to speak, commenting on the action. Sometimes they merge with the women's voices, producing a truly magical effect. Afterall, this is an opera of texture, of delicacy of sound that prefigures Webern by 30 years. In a way, Falstaff is a truly modern opera: it points towards a new century while literally ending an era.

Falstaff has a reputation for not being melodic, of being Verdi's least lyrical opera. That's not true: the tunes are merely shorter, it's that simple. Don't be put off by the apparent lack of a bang-up, crowd pleasing aria. The entire opera is essentially one long beautiful song. Schwarzkopf, Merriman and Moffo (What a cast!) are superb. They have rarely sounded so youthful yet wise. Vocal quality (to my ear at least) sounds easy and natural for each member of the cast. I cannot find a hint of Scarpia in Gobbi's performance. That's quite a feat since Gobbi is not a Falstaff that comes quickly to mind when discussing casting this role. Everything falls comfortably into place in this classic recording. It is a personal touchstone opera performance.

In a review of Gardiner's recent recording of this opera, I mention Toscanini's justifiably lauded recording as occupying one of the antipodes of Falstaff performances. Karajan's is unquestionably the other, lighting the way for all that comes after. Not bad for a long day's work. I really love this recording. 5 stars and most strongly recommended.

Mike Birman"
Va, vecchio John. Go, old Jack, go thy ways
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 05/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

Studio recording made at Kingsway Hall, London on June 21-23 and June 25-29, 1956. Originally issued by EMI on Lps in 1957.

The booklet accompanying this issue has this to say: "This recording was made in 1956 in the early days of stereo. As a consequence, the listener may notice some slight technical flaws that derive from the original tapes." This set was digitally remastered in 1999 with considerable success. Audiophiles who spend far more time listening to hisses and joins than they do to performances may cavil, but it sounds fine to me.

ALICE FORD - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
MEG PAGE - Nan Merriman
MISTRESS QUICKLY - Fedora Barbieri
FENTON - Luigi Alva
DR. CAJUS - Tomaso Spataro
BARDOLFO - Renato Ercolani
PISTOLA - Nicola Zaccaria.

Herbert von Karajan with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus.

Walter Legge.

Disk 1 - Act I, Part One, tracks 1-4; Act I, Part Two, tracks 5-12; Act II, Part One, tracks 13-20;55:04. Disk 2 - Act II, Part Two, tracks 1-10; Act III, Part One, tracks 11-16; Act III, Part Two, tracks 17-26; 64:38.

~ Libretto in German, Italian, English and French.
~ Short synopsis of the plot.
~ Photographs of the conductor (of course!) and the principal singers.
~ Track list that identifies characters singing, provides timings and the page of the libretto on which the text is to be found.
~ A brief history of the opera and a gush of adulation for von Karajan contributed by Richard Osborne. (Not recommended for readers who must control the sugar in their diet.)

Let me be up front with this: I consider "Falstaff" to be one of the two greatest operas ever written. I am fully aware that it is not and has never been especially popular with audiences and I think that a dirty rotten shame.

This is far and away the best stereo "Falstaff." No subsequently recorded Jack Falstaff approached Gobbi in the part: Taddei in Karajan's second stereo version was caught too late in his career; Terfel lost the character amid the mugging; Evans was good but no match for Gobbi in either voice or style; Fischer-Dieskau was inherently mismatched and miscast in Italian opera.

No subsequent recording musters an ensemble of singers that even comes close to the 1956 cast assembled by producer Walter Legge. Beside the extraordinary Gobbi were the equally impressive Panerai as Ford and Anna Moffo as Nanetta Ford. Luigi Alva was certainly one of the best light tenors of the day. Merriman was an old pro as Meg Page, having served under Toscanini in the same role. Barbieri was a tremendous Mistress Quickly. Her hilarious variations on the greeting, "Reverenza," ring in the mind. Schwarzkopf was an exquisite and sharp-witted Alice Ford.

Legge and von Karajan put in a great deal of time and work into preparation of this performance and it all appears in the sound of the set. Seldom has any conductor achieved such accuracy and unanimity of purpose. The Philharmonia Orchestra was at its peak of prowess and sounds tremendous.

All these things fully justify a five star rating.

That said, I feel bound to point out that while Karajan's 1956 recording is the best stereo performance, it is not the best recorded performance. Karajan's handling of any opera always requires something of an acquired taste. The ensemble is good but not perfect. Alva was a fine technician but he lacked fire. Cesare Valetti would have been preferable and Ferruccio Tagliavini better yet. Schwarzkopf, Walter Legge's wife, was wonderful, but no-one would ever mistake her for a true Italian soprano or a natural Verdian. Tebaldi was tied to rival Decca Records and therefore unavailable, but there were other full-voiced sopranos at the time, such as Antonietta Stella or Caterina Mancini. Or Callas.

The best performance is Toscanini's 1950 mono version with Giuseppe Valdengo as the Fat Knight. (Some would argue that Toscanini's pre-war "Falstaff" is better still, but time and recording technology put that one out of the running as far as I am concerned.) Toscanini's cast is very nearly a match for Karajan's and his earthy, fiery conducting makes Herr Doktor K's seem restrained and over-refined.

A 1949 performance, in mono naturally, has strong claim to be regarded as at least an equal of the 1956 Karajan. It was led by Mario Rossi, a conductor who could find the fun in the score that sometimes eluded Karajan. It's excellent all-Italian cast included the Falstaff of the young Giuseppe Taddei, who understood the character as well as Gobbi and possessed a better singing voice."
A great recording of a great opera
The Baker Street Irregular | Staines | 06/04/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There are those who say that "Falstaff" lacks tunes. It makes me wonder if we've been listening to the same work: I can't think of another opera with more tunes, or with better tunes. It's almost as if Verdi had so many going round his head, he had to cram them all into this one work which, aged nearly eighty, he must have known was to be his last. The result is that the melodies all go by so fast, it's hard to take them all in at first hearing: as soon as you hear one, it's gone - and there's something equally magical in its place. This is why a recording is an ideal way of getting to know this quicksilver masterpiece; and recordings don't come better than this!Tito Gobbi make sone wonder why other Italianate baritones bother getting out of bed in the mornings. Not only is he a great singer - he is also a superlative actor: every vocal nuance and shade is to be cherished. The rest of the cast is equally wonderful. My particular favourite is Ronaldo Panerai as Ford: the duet between him and Gobbi in Act Two is among the greatest scenes in recorded opera.Karajan's conducting of this complex score is well nigh perfect: the varying and quick changes of mood and tempo appear just right, with not a hint of contrivance; and he carefully but unfussily brings out the many subtleties of Verdi's miraculous orchestration. The Philharmonia Orchestra is in great form, and the early stereo, though obviously not in the class of modern recordings, nonetheless holds up well.Just a final word of warning: please don't confuse this with Karajan's later digital recording, which is inferior in virtually all respects."