"The Bernstein recording is on the face of it controvertial for having a German Falstaff in Fischer-Dieskau. But why should it be so? FD points the words more intelligently and meaningfully than, for example, Valdengo on the Toscanini set(recently reissued in quite decent sound). The orchestra plays with superb panache for Bernstein whose speed is closer to Tosci's than the competition's--Solti, Karajan, Giulini. But for all the speed, the phrasing is magnificently nuanced and the whole is buoyant from start to finish. Not a single cast member lets the interpretation down. So as a totality this greatest of all Verdi masterpieces tingles and in its component parts fizzes along with sprightly life affirming joy.Fischer-Dieskau does not sound heavy or Teutonic. He is both Shakespearean and Verdian all at once. So in a small but excellent field of contenders the Bernstein set is at the very least first among equals, and for my money, the supreme achievement of Bernstein's operatic career."
Comic opera that is Actually Funny
E. Robbins | 07/10/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"OK- before you turn up your nose and start making comments about FD's highly individual style and whether it works in Verdi (doesn't FD's unique tone bug you in Italian stuff?), he is wonderful here. He makes this work in so that you believe that he would do a fine job of speaking the words in a production of Shakespeare's play. Even a single word like "Ebben?" is pointed in such a way that it's not only communicative but just plain funny, and he doesn't resort to the kind of low-rent Dulcamara buffo bluster that you usually hear. As you can imagine, Resnik rises to the occasion, and her scene with FD is absolutely priceless. Berstein is wonderful as well, giving the music such life that worn-out music review phrases such as "rhythmic vibrancy" don't begin to describe it. The playing is incredibly tight and full of zing, and the climaxes are huge and breathtakingly (but not breathlessly) fast (dangerously yet exhiliratingly so) and the insidiously difficult final fugue will make you leap out of your seat. The only flaw (and a nasty one it is) is the singing of Sciutti which is just AWFUL. Fluttery, unsupported, sour, out-of-tune, utterly devoid of feeling or understanding: Snow White without the charm. Couldn't Berstein have gotten anyone else? What were his regulars doing that week? Blegen- hell even Farrell would have done better. Still, FD and Bernstein are worth putting up with one unlistenable soprano."
Falstaff on adrenalin
N. Freidin | Huntington, WV | 09/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the 100 m sprint version of Verdi's Falstaff, leaving even Toscanini's classic 1950 recording with Valdengo in the dust ! Unlike some reviewers, I think the singers are first rate. Fischer-Dieskau, not an obvious choice for the lead role, brings energy, wit and wisdom, to the character of the fat knight, not to mention his clear diction. He was a perfectionist, and always faithful to the music, the text and the role. His intelligence and humanity allowed him to sing Verdi roles more convincingly than some of his Italian counterparts. An example that comes to mind is Rodrigo in Solti's Don Carlo, recorded in 1966, the same year as this set. He was criticized then too, for being too 'cerebral', too 'Germanic'. The fact is that Fischer-Dieskau offers a more complex, multi-dimensional, approach, interpreting the characters to make them believable on a human scale. (No mean feat in the world of opera !) Resnik, with her fruity voice, is especially notable, and funny, as Mistress Quickly. And Panerai, his second recorded Ford (the first with Karajan in 1956, ten years earlier), portrays the 'cuckhold' husband with just the right amount of bluster. The rest of the cast is equally commendable. This opera requires singers who can also act, and there is no weak link in this recording. The Wiener Philharmoniker, with their lush sound, perform superbly.
I have seven other recordings of Falstaff, including the 'classics' conducted by Toscanini, Karajan (Gobbi), and Solti (Evans); and a few newer versions by Giulini (Bruson), and Davis (Pertusi). Even, Daniel's version in English (Shore). Each adds something different to Verdi's masterpiece. Needles to say, Verdi's Falstaff is at the top of my list of operatic works !
Pick the Bernstein recording if you are looking for the 'madcap' approach, with orchestra and singers harnessed expertly by a master conductor. Bernstein communicates the sheer fun intended in Verdi's last opera. At the conclusion, you may be left exhausted, but smiling."
Go for Bernstein, not the singers
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 09/11/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This performance dates from Lenny's honeymoon with the Vienna State Opera, and it shows in the buoyant, often hyper playing--the musicians never had a conductor like this before! But Fischer-Dieskau couldn't be more wrong for the role, with his dry timbre, barking staccato delivery, overacting, and lack of range. This is a buffo role but also a wise one, the closest Italian opera ever got to Hans Sachs, but here the longings of an aging man are seen as farce. Eveyr other role is sung well enough, but even if I didn't love the classic EMi Karajan performance with Tito Gobbi, I owuldn't be able to like this one."