Reviews

GHCD 2309/10 – FALSTAFF – Verdi – Warren – Valdengo – Reiner – Metropolitan Opera – 1949

Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, Fritz Reiner, LEONARD WARREN – GIUSEPPE VALDENGO – GIUSEPPE DI STEFANO – REGINA RESNIK – LICIA ALBANESE – CLOE ELMO – MARTHA LIPTON

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Klassik.com December 2005

Rau, verwegen, wild mit Charme und Liebenswürdigkeit
Prächtig die Weiberriege mit Regina Resnik als Alice, Martha Lipton als Mag Page und der fundamentalen Cloe Elmo als Quickly.
Es muss einer der großen Abende an der New Yorker Met gewesen sein, als am 26. Februar 1949 Verdis letzte Oper ‘Falstaff’ gegeben wurde. Die Besetzungsliste führt einige der Sängerinnen und Sänger auf, die das Publikum ins Herz geschlossen hatte, Fritz Rainer hatte die Leitung. Es muss ein temperamentvoller und höchst vergnüglicher Abend gewesen sein. Warum immer ‘muss’, war es nicht so? Die Aufführung wurde im Rundfunk übertragen und in bewährter Weise von Milton Cross kommentiert. Der Mitschnitt dieser Aufführung liegt nun auf zwei CDs in der Reihe ‘Immortal Performances’ des Labels ‘Guild’ vor und was da zu hören ist, oder streckenweise eben nicht zu hören ist, das gibt einen leider nur unvollkommenen Eindruck davon, welch berauschender Operabend da vor 56 Jahren über die Bühne der Met gegangen sein muss. Es rauscht und knattert, es gibt sehr unangenehme Übersteuerungen und Verzerrungen, die Lautstärke schwankt, und doch vermittelt sich unwahrscheinlich viel von der grandiosen Stimmung dieser Aufführung. Fans werden die technischen Mängel in Kauf nehmen, wer dem Reinheitsgebot der Studioproduktionen bzw. moderner Aufnahme- und Übertragungstechniken anhängt, wird entsetzt sein. Der amerikanische Bariton Leonhard Warren hatte zehn Jahre zuvor sein Debüt an der Met gegeben, 1949 war er schon recht weit in seiner Karriere, bald übernahm er den Dogen in Verdis ‘Simone Boccanegra’, errang mit dem ‘italienischen Boris’ seine großen Triumphe. Warren war auch international bekannt und berühmt geworden, aber er hielt New York die Treue mit 622 Auftritten, davon allein an 376 Abenden in Aufführungen von Verdiopern. Auch am 4. März 1960 wurde an der Met eine Oper von Verdi gegeben, ‘La Forza del Destino’, mit Warren sagen Renata Tebaldi und Richard Tucker. Es war Warrens letzter Auftritt und einer der tragischsten Abende des Opernhauses, denn der so berühmte wie beliebte Bariton brach mitten im Freundschaftsduett zusammen und verstarb auf der Bühne. Warren, ein Sänger der sich stets verausgabte, der seinen Figuren pralles Leben schenkte, stimmlich vor allem, war auch ein bedeutender Interpret des ‘Falstaff’. In der vorliegenden Aufnahme bekommt man, trotz genannter Einschränkungen, doch recht viel mit von der Direktheit, der lebensprallen Lust des alternden Helden auf Liebespfaden, in philosophischen Exkursen und Trinkmeisterschaften. Warren – stimmlich jedenfalls – ist ein liebenswürdiges Raubein, ein kraftvoller Bariton mit zartem Kern. Ein so sehr geschmeidiger, eleganter Bariton ist er nicht, wiewohl er auch die Töne des Fauns im alten Zausel erklingen lässt, und man von der Tragik seiner Rolle nicht unberührt bleibt. Giuseppe di Stefano, 1948 an die Met gekommen, singt den Fenton und Licia Albanese die Anne Ford. Viele schöne Töne, so hoffnungsvoll, wie Verdi sie seinem jungen Paar in seiner Abschiedsoper geschrieben hat. Prächtig die Weiberriege mit Regina Resnik als Alice, Martha Lipton als Mag Page und der fundamentalen Cloe Elmo als Quickly. Ford und Caius singen Giuseppe Valdengo und Leslie Chabay, Bardolph und Pistol sind Alessio de Paolis und Lorenzo Alvary. Jede Passage dieser Aufnahme, in die man sich bei mehrmaligem Hören immer besser einhört, so dass die Störungen weniger abweisend werden, macht schmerzlich deutlich, welcher Genuss es wäre, dieses Dokument einer höchst lebensvollen und vor allem musikalisch prächtigen Aufführung, ungestörter genießen zu können.
Boris Michael Gruhl

Fanfare March/April 2006

Verdi’s Falstaff has never had the kind of press or public support that many of his earlier works possess. Not that it lies largely forgotten, a fate which has befallen many another last opera, but some of the larger, more traditional opera houses have tended to give it short shrift, citing poor box Office. The Metropolitan, for example, didn’t perform it between 1949-and within two weeks of the radio broadcast heard an this set-and 1964. Perhaps the fat knight will do better in the new century.

Certainly, we can hope so, given the recent surge in staged performances an DVD, as well as new and archival, commercial and private recordings that have made their way to CD.

This historic radio broadcast is a strong, and an Occasion, a brilliant performance. Some of that, of course, is due to Leonard Warren’s assumption of the eponymous knight. Richard Caniell (who also supplies the sound restoration) writes in his lengthy liner notes that Warren starts off slightly unfocused, and this is true. The honor monologue, while good in general, fails in detail, as though Warren’s mind was more an controlling his tone than the niceties of phrasing and characterization. But he’s far better in act II, despite an overly heavy “Quand’ero paggio,” and his act III monologue is first-rate. It’s only a shame the Met didn’t record his other Falstaffs, so that we might have had the rich-voiced Warren, with his thrilling upper register, an one of his uniformly excellent days. At any rate, there are enough surviving broadcasts to show what he Gould achieve an top form.

He’s surrounded by the results of a legacy for encouraging young, promising talent, undertaken throughout Edward Johnson’s administration. Performing alongside a talented veteran such as Licia Albanese (who sounds fresh and involved throughout, despite problems maintaining breath support in her act III aria) is a boyish Giuseppe di Stefano, exhibiting that combination of golden tone, stylish approach, and seemingly effortless production that raised enormous expectations for a decade. The Alice Ford of Regina Resnik (she was 26 at the time, having been engaged by Johnson at the age of 22) is the finest I’ve ever heard, and much the same can be said of the seasoned Cloe Elmo’s sly, mercurial Dame Quickly. Giuseppe Valdengo is a superb Ford, dry of voice but alive to both the dramatic possibilities of the character and Verdi’s markings.

Reiner leads a kinetically charged performance, inclining an a very few occasions to jump the gun towards climaxes. (The opening of act III is like this.) But it is a taut and structured reading with great textural clarity.

The sound quality is surprisingly good-if you keep in mind that in those years, Texaco paid for a live opera feed via phone live that cut off all frequency response above 1 OK. Voices are never very close to microphones, but never very distant, and well balanced with the orchestra. The ambiance is dry, and the sense of live theater palpable. There’s a fair amount of low-level grit that never goes away, occasional ticks, and mistracking. None of it begins to approach the awful sound of previous releases an LP and CD that I’ve heard of this broadcast. One further note: all the between-scenes comments of Milton Cross, the broadcast’s regular announcer for decades, are included. These are separately banded, however, so they can be conveniently skipped.

Fans of Warren, di Stefano, Valdengo, and historic operatic broadcasts will want to give consideration to this new release from Guild. It fully adheres to the high Standards we’ve come to expect from this label.
Barry Brenesal


Music Web 09.08.2005

Falstaff holds the distinction of not only being Verdi’s final opera but also his only successful opera buffa; his first, written at the age of 27, was a total failure. Verdi and his librettist, Boito, at first kept the composition of Falstaff in complete secrecy, only revealing it publicly after the completion of the first act. This work displays Verdi’s true versatility: the soaring melodrama of his previous works is gone, replaced by music ingeniously constructed to display charm, wit, and light-heartedness.

This particular recording is notable for several reasons. First, the recording is not just of the opera; instead, it is a recording of the Met broadcast of February 26, 1949 and includes commentary by Milton Cross. As the Richard Caniell’s liner notes explain, this production was one of the huge hits of the 1948-49 season, due, in part, to the illustrious conductor, Fritz Reiner, as well as to the work’s rarity before 1949 – at least at the Met. Leonard Warren, Giuseppe Di Stefano and Licia Albanese stand to this day as among the best voices of the 20th century. These “time capsule” qualities alone make this recording worth owning.

The recording holds some incredible singing and playing. The American baritone, Leonard Warren, gives a great performance. His rich, dark timbre is perfect for the bamboozling, obese Falstaff. As usual, his upper register is exciting — this voice is rare in its naturally dark, yet resonant timbre in combination with a virtually unlimited top. Di Stefano sings beautifully. Once again, the listener is rewarded with a truly exceptional voice: full, lyrical, completely focused, and produced with extreme ease. He and Licia Albanese make a remarkable combination. The young, clandestine lovers sing sensitively together, and their intermittent bouts of flirting are refreshing, passionate and quite hilarious. Other members of the cast are equally adroit in their singing and characterization. Giuseppe Valdengo as Ford works well with Warren, as their baritone voices are strikingly different. Alessio de Paolis and Lorenzo Alvary as Falstaff’s henchmen sing with incredible spirit and hilarious inflection.

Reiner’s conception of the piece is, at times, a bit haphazard. He allows the orchestra to peak too often and too regularly rather than projecting the dramatic action in large-scale phrases. The result is too much weight and importance assigned to too many different occasions.

We must not be surprised at the fallibility of the sound given the historical nature of this recording of a live broadcast. An ambient hiss is present more often than it isn’t, and in many places, the orchestra is somewhat obscured by a sort of haze. For these reasons, it is difficult to make many specific comments in regard to the performance. However, there is no doubt that this recording is top notch. The questionable sound quality prevents it from being one’s primary recording of this work; however, it offers much insight not only into Verdi’s final opera but also into the operatic achievements of a previous generation.
Jonathan Rohr