Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff, the last opera of the Master from Busseto, is one of the most multi-facetted scores in opera history
Foto: Wiener Staatsoper/Axel Zeininger(and for that reason is perhaps one that needs several hearings in order to grasp it). It is at once comic and serious, an intimate chamber opera and a large-scale ensemble work, and it draws cleverly on musical tradition while at the same time indulging in near-avant-garde boldness. Falstaff has a long performing history in Vienna (it was first performed there in 1893), and just as long is the list of great conductors who have conducted it at the Vienna State Opera. These include Lorin Maazel, who presented his interpretation of the work there in 1983. He took great pleasure in sending the listener off on the wrong track, only to catch him by surprise again a moment later. No orchestral detail was left out, and yet he always maintained close contact with the stage. For that stage also featured a magnificent ensemble of singers, first and foremost Walter Berry, who in the Indian summer of his career conquered a stellar role for himself once more, this time as fat Sir John. He was equally at home in the joviality of the role and in its ruminative moments as he was in its roguish and impulsive emotional outbursts. The portly knight’s object of desire and his antagonist was Pilar Lorengar as Alice Ford, possessed of vocal luminosity and perfect accentuation. Her jealous husband was played as an unbridled, dashing cavalier by the baritone Giorgio Zancanaro. As the young lovers, the silvery-bright soprano of Patricia Wise and the dark-toned tenor of Francisco Araiza complemented each other charmingly, both in timbre and in the naturalness of their intertwined phrasing. Nor did Christa Ludwig hold back in her renowned interpretation of Mrs Quickly, luring both Walter Berry and the Viennese public to their assignations in Ford’s house and under Herne’s Oak. With an ensemble such as this, the final fugue can truly make us believe that all the world’s a joke – and listening to this live recording merely confirms it.