Verdi’s Falstaff (Glyndebourne 2009) on Blu-Ray

Fenton is a private-first-class; Mrs. Quickly also wears a
military uniform; the front yard of the Ford house is a victory garden full of
cabbages. Insofar as The Merry Wives of Windsor is a sequel to the
Henry IV plays, the post-war milieu makes a kind of sense: the Hotspur
rebellion has recently been defeated—though World War II was a rather
different kind of conflict.

I felt that this premise presented opportunities that were missed. The sense
of half-exhausted rebirth, the lingering presence of the scarecrow army in
2 Henry IV, never made itself felt: instead the Windsor of 1946
yielded a few nice comical touches, such as Ford’s Dracula costume in Act
3, scene 2, and the Victrola that played the lute strumming that accompanies
Falstaff’s wooing song in Act 2, scene 2, thereby making a charming
effect of karaoke. This production might have been the first to find the Samuel
Beckett opera that lies within Verdi’s and Boito’s work.

The singer who plays Falstaff usually dominates the opera, and so it was
here. Christopher Purves moves inside in fat suit with uncommon grace—he
dances his way through the opera, even trying to get Ford to follow his lead,
as if Act 2, scene 1 were a big foxtrot. Purves is a splendid comedian,
waggling his fingers like W. C. Fields, but without Fields’ resources of
misanthropy—it would be better to say that this is the Falstaff that
Benny Hill might have thought up, a Falstaff who leers with big eyes and gets
shot in the buttock by a small boy with a slingshot. Bardolfo and Pistola are
second bananas in carefully choreographed production numbers: after Falstaff
praises his own paunch in Act 1, scene 1, they hold out their upturned palms to
him as if inviting the audience to applaud his star turn. The sense of Falstaff
as comedy revue is everywhere: Ford squirts himself with seltzer water and
slaps himself silly; during the sneak-up to Fenton and Nannetta, as they kiss
behind a screen in Act 2, scene 2, the stalkers form a line and each person
slaps the person behind him.

The musical values of this production are less impressive than the carefully
contrived dramatic ones. The singing is mostly good but not distinguished, with
the possible exception of Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s deliciously baritonal
Quickly: the woolly-voiced Ford of Tassis Christoyannis is satisfactory;
Purves’s Falstaff is a little too light in timbre but finely agile; Dina
Kuznetsova’s Alice is rich and vibrant, maybe too vibrant on the higher
notes. Vladmir Jurowski conducts with sufficient briskness, but without the
urgency or the pungent articulation of Bernstein or Toscanini.

In his excellent notes to this recording, Russ McDonald quotes a letter from
Eleanora Duse to Boito: “How melancholy your comedy is.” Duse would
not have written this if she had seen this pleasant, harmless production.

Daniel Albright

See below for the standard DVD version of this recording:

image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff
product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff
product_by=Dr Caius: Peter Hall; Sir John Falstaff: Christopher Purves; Bardolph: Alasdair Elliott; Pistol: Paolo Battaglia; Mrs Page (Meg): Jennifer Holloway; Mrs Ford (Alice): Dina Kuznetsova; Mistress Quickly: Marie-Nicole Lemieux; Nannetta: Adriana Kucerova; Fenton: Bulent Bezduz; Ford: Tassis Christoyannis. Glyndebourne Chorus. London Philharmonic Orchestra. Vladimir Jurowski, conductor. Richard Jones, stage director. Recorded live at Glyndebourne Opera House, Lewes, East Sussex, June 2009.
product_id=Opus Arte OABD7053D [Blu-Ray DVD]