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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Donald Gramm's Falstaff at Glyndebourne, 9 Feb 2005
J Scott Morrison (Middlebury VT, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Falstaff [DVD] [2005] (DVD)
This production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle at Glyndebourne in 1976 stars a bass-baritone much-beloved in the US, Donald Gramm, who tragically died at the height of his career only a few years later. I remember with great pleasure his Dr. Bartolo at the New York City Opera (with Beverly Sills) and numbers of recordings of American art songs, most important of which is 'But Yesterday Is Not Today' (still available at AmazonUS), a real treasure for anyone interested in that genre. In the present disc he gives us a lovable and not entirely oblivious Falstaff who is a larger-than-life mortal all too aware of his own frailties. There is not the vaudeville mugging and capering that one sometimes sees in the role. As for the voice, which was not huge but was certainly rich, he more than fills the role in Glyndebourne's small hall. His 'Va, vecchio John' in both its appearances is sung beautifully and acted with understated pathos. He delights in 'Quand ero paggio.'
The rest of the cast is, as in many Glyndebourne productions, not internationally well-known (with the exception of the wonderful Benjamin Luxon as Ford, whose monolog is stellar, and Elizabeth Gale, as Nannetta) but they are all really quite good. I was very pleased with the Mistress Quickly of Nucci Condo; is there any other contralto phrase as immediately recognizable as Quickly's 'Reverenza'? It is sung here with resplendent chest voice by Ms Condo. A new name to me was that of Kay Griffel who sang Alice Ford; why had I never heard of her before? She has a lovely lyric soprano and is completely at ease in this leading role and makes a lovable, if deliciously devilish, leader of the merry wives of Windsor. Equally effective in the slightly smaller part is another unknown (to me) singer, Reni Penkova. As Fenton is a lithe youngish Max-René Cosotti with a pleasant light tenor; he and Gale make a handsome young couple in love and their little love scenes, always fated to be interrupted by the action, are fresh and ardent. Rounding out the well-taken solo roles are John Fryatt as the comically pompous Dr. Caius, Bernard Dickerson and Ugo Trama as Falstaff's drinking companions, Bardolph and Pistol. Even the non-singing role of Falstaff's page is well-acted (and the boy playing the role, Paul Jackson, is brought on by Gramm when he takes his own solo bow at the opera's end.)
The sets are wonderful, as they usually are at Glyndebourne, and cleverly designed. No unit set here; each of the opera's perfectly balanced scenes has its own set. Costumes are also really quite beautiful--well, except for Bardolph and Pistol, who always, appropriately, look like what the cat dragged in.
In the pit is the long-time music director at Glyndebourne during the '70s, John Pritchard, conducting Glyndebourne's usual band, the fabulous London Philharmonic. In this, perhaps the most inventive and difficult of Verdi's orchestral scores--it is often said that the orchestra is the main character in this opera--they outdo themselves. Ensemble between orchestra and singers, always difficult in this quicksilver score, is nigh faultless except for a slightly out-of-synch beginning to the 'Pizzica, pizzica' chorus in Act III. Director for this video production was Dave Heather. Videography is crisp and the mix of camera angles is both unobtrusive and apt.
I have not seen the much more recent 'Falstaff' DVD from Covent Garden starring Bryn Terfel. I can only imagine it is wonderful. But for a chamber-sized version I suspect this Glyndebourne release might be hard to beat. I certainly have no complaints. And I was really glad to have this record of Donald Gramm in one of his most subtly sung and acted roles.
TT=118 Subtitles in German, French, English, Spanish, Italian. Sound PCM stereo.
Scott Morrison
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Falstaff [DVD] [2005]
Falstaff [DVD] [2005] by Dave Heather (DVD - 2005)
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