- Falstaff, opera
"Excellent! Excellent! One couldn't do better," wrote Giuseppe Verdi after he received Arrigo Boito's libretto to Falstaff, the "lyric comedy in three acts" that would become the composer's final masterpiece. Here, in a performance led by Claudio Abbado, bass-baritone Bryn Terfel stars in the title role, and Verdi's comment is just as apt for this stellar recording as it was for Boito's inspired lyrics. If ever there were an operatic character custom fitted to Terfel's talents, it is Sir John Falstaff, and his performance is, quite simply, a major achievement, rivaling Tito Gobbi's 1956 version with Schwarzkopf and Karajan -- until now the one of choice. Falstaff is a demanding role, both vocally and dramatically, but the bearish Terfel is in every way up to the task, vividly rendering the opportunistic, scheming, and comically unsuccessful character with his distinctively rich and sonorous baritone. Thomas Hampson, a major star in his own right, is similarly impressive as Ford, and Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka delivers the part of Alice with a beautifully lustrous tone and without a hint of strain. In fact, the depth of the supporting cast is one of this recording's most impressive aspects. Only Daniil Shtoda's Fenton comes up somewhat short in such impressive company. Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic are in top form here, the orchestral playing given with an organlike precision and weight that is indeed a pleasure to experience. Times have not been good for old Sir John, with many classic recordings out of print and none to take their place -- until recently, that is. This Falstaff comes hard on the heels of John Eliot Gardiner's fine release on Philips with Jean-Philippe Lafont in the lead role. Gardiner's version is airier and more sprightly than Abbado's, which may appeal to some, but as far as this listener is concerned, Terfel is tops.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Bryn Terfel was born to play Sir John Falstaff. His portrayal of the fat knight is the best on record in recent memory, preferable both in beauty and interpretation to Gobbi's reading for Karajan in the 50s. Terfel's magnificent voice fully encompasses what is perhaps the most challenging role in the baritone repertoire, second to Rigoletto, bringing humor, texture and even one or two high Gs to Sir John. Oftentimes, the record companies--especially with full-length opera recordings--will only opt to pay for one or two big name stars and then fill the supporting roles with those singers of lesser talent. Such is certainly not the case here. Nearly every role is cast perfectly, particularly newcomer Adrianne Pieczonka who sings with much beauty and vocal humor as Alice. She is complemented nicely by Thomas Hampson heard here as her husband, Ford. Not all will like his extremely lyrical approach to the role, perhaps feeling the role requires a more dramatic voice similar to Leonard Warren's famous account. I disagree. The dramatic baritone role is that of Falstaff. Ford's music (other than his soliloquy) demands a lighter, quicker voice to handle the complex ensemble writing. Hampson fits the bill perfectly and it is refreshing to hear "E sogno" truly sung rather than barked. Larissa Diadkova has the requisite weight of tone of Mistress Quickly, though she is guided through the comedy of her duet with Falstaff by Terfel. As Ford's daughter, Nanetta, Dorothea Roschman is absolutely glorious. Her light, pure soprano perfectly suited to the soubrette role (one of the few in Verdi). Daniil Shtoda isn't horrible as her counterpart, Fenton, but he's not that great either. His top notes sound strained and his emotion forced. For a truly great rendition of "dal labbro" listen to Ramon Vargas' album of Verdi arias..wonderful. Claudio Abbado leads the Berlin Phil through Verdi's wild comedic romp with a kind of controlled abandon. The tempos are very fast, yet one never gets the sense the opera is getting away from the conductor. The recorded sound is top drawer and the balance between singers and orchestra is perfect. This recording is quite an achievement and we should feel fortunate to have such a record of Bryn Terfel's fantastic interpretation.