Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Gaie comari di Windsor

Falstaff goes courting the ladies of Windsor.
The great French baritone Victor Maurel
who created Verdi's Iago and Falstaff.
When I first heard it I remember being puzzled by Falstaff.  This wasn't the Verdi  I worshiped and adored: the Verdi of the soaring aria, the tearful father-daughter duets or the grand ensembles.  This was a Verdi of parlando, ariosi that came and went quickly, quartets that turned into duets that became octets, all with nary a pause for breath or applause.  And to my youthful ears (I was 11 or 12 at the time) it was all pretty unmelodic and didn't really sound the way opera should.  It seemed that Verdi was reverting to the style of Monteverdi or Cavalli - composers whose works I was also struggling with at the time.

Now to be fair two things - well okay three if you consider my youthful ignorance - should be taken in to consideration.  First:  Falstaff was a work that went largely unperformed in the venue I had access to at the time - the Met broadcasts and tours, and the Canadian Opera Company.  Second: The only recording I had at hand was the famous and much lauded Toscanini version.  To many this may sound like apostasy but I have grown to dislike Toscanini's Falstaff.  Yes I know he has a direct link with the work but I find his performance driven, brittle and utterly lacking in humour - much like the man himself.  I was to discover that there was more joy, wit and humanity in the piece than in almost any other opera I had ever heard.

Falstaff was a signature role for Geraint Evans - seen here in
1964 at the Met.  Falstaff bemoans the unfairness of life after
his dunking in the Thames.
Part of that realization came in 1964 when I journeyed to New York to see the first performance the Met had given in over twenty years.  It was at the old house, the production was by a young Franco Zefferelli and the cast though less than stellar had been molded into a cracker-jack ensemble by Leonard Bernstein, making his debut at the house.  Apparently I was mistaken - the old man from Busseto knew exactly what he was doing.

Performances became more frequent - even the COC did it for the first time back in 1982 with Louis Quilico; more recordings appeared led by many of the great conductors: Von Karajan, Solti, Bernstein, Guilini, Davis, Abbado and Muti.  Though none were perfect - if such a thing could exist - all were to reveal - to my ears - the autumnal as well as comedic subtleties and colour of the miraculous collaboration between Shakespeare, Boito  and Verdi.

Louis Quilico as Falstaff with the COC in 1982.
After the COC in '82 I though I was to hear many records and see several productions on TV or DVD I wasn't to see another live performance until Rome in 2010 - a production that I wrote about at the time.  Even for all its drawbacks I came out of the theatre that December evening and walked back home in the crisp early morning air - the Zefferelli scene changes added almost an hour to the performing time - feeling that all was right with the world.

After attending the COC's most recent production last Friday night I came out of the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto feeling much the same way.  What I had seen was in no way perfect but it left me feeling that despite all the troubles in the world, despite what the media was reporting, despite any personal peeves I might have at the moment, there was still much that was right with the world. 

Gerald Finley made his first appearance as Verdi's Fat Knight last Friday
evening at the opening of the COC season.  It was a more than auspicious
role debut and it is a performance that will only grow richer as time goes by.  
Hopefully by the end of the week I will have gathered my thoughts on Friday night's performance and written a bit more about it.

October 7 - 1919: KLM, the flag carrier of the Netherlands, is founded. It is the oldest airline still operating under its original name.

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