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Falstaff [DVD] 
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A classic Glyndebourne production of Verdi's three-act comic opera 'Falstaff', performed in Italian by the Glyndebourne Chorus accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and a cast of soloists including Benjamin Luxom, Elizabeth Gale, Kay Griffel and the late great American baritone Donald Gramm.
This Black and white,German language television film is from the same stable as the Otello(101505).The Falstaff works better,its intimacy carrying even in grainy visuals.Edelmann's acceptable falstaff dominates,with an appreciable supporting cast. Performance *** Picture and Sound *** --BBC Music Magazine,Oct 2010
As a historical document,this is probably as good as they come --Gramophone awards issue,2010 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Of all the "Falstaffs" I own, this one is the most understated - but definitely not as far as the singers are concerned. They are superb throughout.
However, directors have a tendency of "overdoing" this opera with Falstaff coming across as the most hideously colorful buffoon possible. I doubt whether Verdi intended such often overdone, almost obscene goings-on.
In this Glyndebourne production, Falstaff is a silly old man but not a stupid one; a bit foolish and with nothing to think about but his past glory. He is slightly ridiculous but not a caricature. And although we enjoy his comeuppance and laugh at the proceedings, our laughs are gentle - not the frequent belly-laughs that Verdi probably never had in mind.
To me, Donald Gramm must be in every respect the Falstaff as Verdi composed him: his singing and his acting in this not easy part are sheer perfection. And when he redeems himself with good humor at the very end, he is totally believable.
All the other singers fit their roles like the proverbial glove: They are handsome, with lovely costumes and, without exception, great voices.
No matter how many famous Falstaffs you have, do yourself a favor and add this one to your collection.
1956 B/W Serafin, 1979 Solti, (date ?)Muti and the 1993 Met-Levine
performances, and I found this performance, despite somewhat dated
sound, to be the best.
The incredible singing and acting by all, Pritchard's inspired conducting,
the camera work, the staging and costumes all excellent.
In fact the entire production was almost like listening to the 1937
and 1950 Toscanini performances with the added benefit of the visual.
There are other, more recent, but still vintage, performances in color and good audio quality available at reasonable cost (e.g., the Met recording with Paul Plishka, Mirella Freni, and Marilyn Horne). Personally, I preferred Horne as Mrs. Quickly, but there is nothing wrong with Elisabeth Hongen's portrayal of the character.
It's not often that one gets a cast with all of the singers having such good quality and tightly focused voices. A decision on whether to buy this DVD will therefore probably be decided by how devoted one is to adding to one's collection some great singers of the past, such as Elisabeth Hongen, Otto Edelmann, and Graziella Sciutti.