Abbado’s Falstaff

Discussion in 'Music & Music Streaming Services' started by Todd_A, Sep 6, 2005.

  1. Todd_A


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    There must have been something in the air in April 2001. Both Riccardo Muti and Claudio Abbado laid down new versions of Verdi’s final masterpiece in that month, and both are exceptionally good. Muti’s is a full production on DVD, so one gets to hear and see the action, while the esteemed Mr Abbado’s is a good old-fashioned studio opera.

    Abbado’s set is blessed with the fine Bryn Terfel in the lead, and he makes a fine Sir John. He is not quite as buoyant and cheery as Ambrogio Maestri is for Muti, but that has its benefits. Terfel’s Falstaff is not a completely cheery fellow; there’s a bit of a violent, angry rogue in him. When he chastises and chases off Pistola and Bardolfo, it is with a tinge of menace in his voice, and when he is alone with Alice, there is a less than completely honorable tone to the proceedings. That’s not to say that casts a dark cloud over the work or character, just that if you want a merry old fat man, this will be a bit disappointing. One other flaw, if it is one, is the quality of Terfel’s voice: he never lacks for power and doesn’t strain to hit any note. In other words, he’s no old man. You can’t have everything.

    The rest of the cast is quite good. All of the merry wives of Windsor are well sung, with just the right amount of bite. Adrianne Pieczonka and Stella Doufexis are wonderfully tart and scheming as Alice and Meg, with Larissa Diadkova’s Quickly gleefully aiding in the plot. Especially delightful are Dorothea Roschmann as Nanetta and Daniil Shtoda as Fenton: they are delightfully young sounding and appropriately amorous. (Muti’s set probably scores even higher with Juan Diego Florez as the young man in love.) Surprisingly good is Thomas Hampson as Ford. Hampson sometimes succumbs to Dieskau Syndrome – complete with the overacting and excessive emphasis on certain sounds and effects that implies – but not so much here. He more or less blends right in.

    Presiding over all is Abbado in top musical form. This is his show. And what a show it is. He deftly manages all with such an incredible ear for detail and pacing, and leads such a miraculously refined reading, that one must struggle to take in this entire sumptuous aural feast. There are so many little things that add up to a monumental whole, that it is impossible to adequately give each its due. But a few highlights are in order. When Nanetta and Fenton sing their touching and humorous love duet, Abbado supports them with incredible softness and delicacy, but he never lets the moment drag or become too sentimental. Indeed, it is taut and clean. Just perfect. When the wives are forming their plot and singing together, Abbado lends them a sharp, witty, but never ponderous (never even close) accompaniment. On several occasions during tuttis, he subtlety accelerates the tempo just a bit, and throughout he commands a precise, controlled dynamic range. It is a remarkable show, and one to cherish. The Berlin Philharmonic strut their stuff, with perfect execution, timing, and a stunningly beautiful sound. (I would have expected nothing less.) Abbado’s band is bigger than Muti’s – who was confined to the tiny Teatro Verdi with an orchestra relatively light in the strings – but it is never sluggish or opaque. The sound Abbado extracts is more in line with a bigger band with warm string tone and a satisfying heft, whereas Muti’s is lighter and crisper. Which one is better? Easy, both!

    DG aids Abbado’s cause with a remarkably clean, precise, and detailed recording. It is definitely a studio recording, with the artificial voice placement and movement and unrealistically clear instrumental placement. But it works here. I’ve already listened to it twice in the last few weeks, and will probably do so at least a couple more times this year. Very highly recommended. (Oh, and the Muti set is very highly recommended, too.)

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