A Superb Entrée into Verdi's 'Falstaff'
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 02/05/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have been exceedingly pleased with this whole series of 'An Introduction to ...' various operas from Naxos. They have all been written by Thomson Smillie and read with relish by British actor David Timson. And I think this one on 'Falstaff' may be the best of the lot. Maybe I think that because I'd just been immersed in two historic recordings of 'Falstaff,' and had come to realize what a masterpiece it is and what a huge favorite of mine. Sometimes I get on kicks where I listen to one work again and again, and I'm afraid that's what has happened here. But listening, in the midst of my Falstaff-mania, to this CD has broadened even further my appreciation of this work of genius. Smillie points out things that I, for all my familiarity with the opera, simply had not known, or noticed before. He describes, for instance, how Boito fashioned such a balanced and trenchant libretto of the Shakespeare plays in which Falstaff plays a part, primarily 'Henry IV' and 'The Merry Wives of Windsor.' And he makes the point along the way that Boito had done much the same with Shakespeare's 'Othello' when he came to write the libretto for the Verdi opera just preceding 'Falstaff,' 'Otello.'
The musical examples on this disc are generous and well-chosen. And they are in generally quite good performances. They are all taken from the Naxos 'Falstaff' that stars Domenico Trimarchi as Falstaff, Roberto Servile as Ford, Maurizio Comencini as Fenton, Julia Faulkner as Alice, the single-named Dilbèr as Nannetta, Anna Bonitatibus as Meg Page, and the organ-voiced Anna Maria di Micco as Mistress Quickly, all conducted by Will Humburg, who has given us some very nice performances in the Naxos opera series.
Smillie does a wonderful job of appreciating and outlining this miracle of wit from the elderly Verdi's pen and makes the point that the final product of that pen, the summing up in the last act by means of 'Tutta nel mundo è burla' ('All the world's a joke') from an operatic genius who wrote only one other comedy, as Verdi's final statement to the world, the wisdom of an old man who had seen it all. As that generally agrees with my own view of things, I loved hearing it said.
This is an outstanding release. If you have the least bit of interest in knowing more about this opera, snap it up. It's a keeper.