[Met Performance] CID:124310
Falstaff {55} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 12/16/1938.


Metropolitan Opera House
December 16, 1938 Matinee

Giuseppe Verdi--Arrigo Boito

Sir John Falstaff.......Lawrence Tibbett
Alice Ford..............Maria Caniglia
Ford....................John Brownlee
Dame Quickly............Bruna Castagna
Nannetta................Marisa Morel
Fenton..................Charles Kullman
Meg Page................Irra Petina
Dr. Caius...............Giordano Paltrinieri
Bardolfo................Alessio De Paolis
Pistola.................Norman Cordon
Innkeeper...............Ludwig Burgstaller

Conductor...............Ettore Panizza

Director................Herbert Graf
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Costume designer........Gretel Urban
Costume designer........Adolfo Hohenstein
Choreographer...........Boris Romanoff

There were five performances of Falstaff this season.

[Urban was not credited as set designer, though the scenery was his, repainted by Joseph Novak.]

Review of Francis D. Perkins in the New York Herald Tribune:

After nearly twelve years since Sir John Falstaff, then in the person of the late Antonio Scotti, was last seen on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, Verdi's amazing operatic swan song was revived yesterday afternoon with Lawrence Tibbett as the third Sir John who has played the role during the forty-three years since this masterpiece of lyric comedy was first heard in this house. Victor Maurel, who had created the role in the Milanese premiere in 1893, was also the Metropolitan's first representative of the portly, amorous knight. Scotti sang it in the revival of '09 under Arturo Toscanini's direction and again in a still memorable revival of January 2, '25, when Lawrence Tibbett, then singing Ford, stopped the show after his laudable delivery of the soliloquy in the second act.

There is much reason for gratitude toward General Manager Edward Johnson and his colleagues for restoration of Verdi's last works, "Otello" and "Falstaff" to the Metropolitan's active list. Both represnt phases of Verdi's genius which are not to be found in the standard pabulum of Verdi's early and middle years which came and went during the regime of Giulio Gatti-Casazza. "Falstaff" can be ranked as one of the few great and perennial operatic comedies, and would be remarkable for its musico-dramatic genius even if the composer had not been nearing his eightieth year when he wrote the last note of his score. But his achievement in turning to riant comedy for the first time in his mature career, of evolving a masterwork, has been often and eloquently praised before and needs no extensive laudation now.

The present production is, in the main, distinguished, well cast and staged. Mr. Tibbett's Falstaff deserves encomiums on several grounds. His singing was well phrased, expressive, and artistic, and his action showed an understanding of the role and good taste. At times, indeed, it seemed that the part did not stand forth in the full dramatic color and completeness of characterization needed for its complete realization, but these can be looked for in further appearances. On yesterday's evidence it promises to become one of Mr. Tibbett's memorable impersonations.

Review of Oscar Thompson in The New York Sun:

'Falstaff'' Admirably Revived

Title Role Yields Fresh Success for Tibbett -An Ensemble Opera.

Bringing with it a notable fresh success for Lawrence Tibbett, "Falstaff" rejoined "Otello" in the Metropolitan's Opera's repertory yesterday afternoon. Not in nearly thirty years have Verdi's final and greatest operas been companions in the active list, their last common season having been that of 1909-10. When "Falstaff" last held the boards at the Metropolitan ('25 to 27) "Otello" had been absent for more than a decade of the quarter half a century it was to wait for the revival of last season. Today, with six Verdi works already produced in the current opera span, it can scarcely be argued that the grand old man of Busseto is being neglected for the Titan of Bayreuth.

There are, of course, others among Verdi's twenty-seven operas that should be revived, "'Un Ballo in Maschera" among them; and the Metropolitan has waited more than a half century for its first 'Macbeth," its first "Nabucco," its first "Vespri Siciliani." But if a choice must be made of less than half of those works which can be regarded as fully representative of their composer, then let it be the six now in the repertory. "Trovatore," "Rigoletto," "Traviata" and "Aida" can ill be spared; without "Otello" and "Falstaff," the great master who created four of opera's best sellers is denied his crowning glory. The complete Verdi is scarcely to be summed up without some such works as "Nabucco" or "Ernani," to give us the headlong ardor of the man of the Risorgimento. But lacking these and earlier works that probably would fail of public approval, the present setup is possibly the most satisfying for Verdians in the history of the Metropolitan.

"Falstaff," more than "Otello" even, presents momentary echoes of various earlier operas by Verdi that seem remote from its refinement and the amazing expertness of its craftsmanship. At the same time, it resembles the earlier operas less than "Otello" in its larger aspects. In its emphasis on swift-moving ensembles, as well as in its reluctance to permit the characters to embark upon set airs, it represents Verdi not merely at the height of his gradually acquired technical virtuosity, but Verdi at the greatest remove from his hurdy-gurdy beginnings.

To charge "Falstaff" with a lack of melody is as absurd as to charge the early operas with a lack off musical skill, But if "Ernani" could be heard one night and "Falstaff" the next, the difference in the type of melody would be no less apparent than the difference in the handling of the orchestra and everything else that goes to determine the texture and feeling of these scores.

An Inspired Masterpiece.

This reviewer is not of those who can see in "Falstaff" any drying up of the founts of Verdi's inspiration The essential genius of a melody is not in the repetitions of basic phrases, but in those basic phrases, themselves. Considered phrase by phrase, what may be termed the undeveloped arias of "Falstaff'' - the arias Verdi could so easily have written, if he had been of a mind to, merely by the stock processes of repetition-compare with any phrases in his other scores. How easily, for example, the love call of Fenton and Nanetta might have been expanded into the most dulcet of duets! Fenton does, indeed, seem about to make a solo of it in the final scene, but the composer calls him off. Verdi's concessions to song for its own sake in Falstaff's "Quand' ero paggio" and Nanetta's air of Titania are enough to show what he might so readily have done for each of his characters if he had not been more concerned with his own kind of new music drama than with repeating the aria successes of his other years. From the first struttings of Sir John at the Garter Inn, to the many-voice fugue of "Tutti gabbati" at the close, there is a lilt in "Falstaff" that is the very essence of melody. And though the listener does not come away with rounded out tunes in his head, he is likely to have with him for many a day such delicious snatches as the "Reverenza" of Dame Quickly's salutation and the twinkling "Dalle due alle tre" that Falstaff repeats after her.

There is no need at this late date to dwell upon the mastery of the word setting, the deftness of the characterization or the drollery of the orchestral commentaries on what is taking place on the stage. But these few words may be called for, even today, to combat a continuing notion that "Falstaff" is an old man's opera, deficient in juice. Though Verdi was an octogenarian when he completed this work, there I was an abundance of sap in the musical tree. "Falstaff," indeed, is his raciest score. In cracking his whip over his characters, he preferred the bustle of a multitude of musical ideas that were in a continuous state of flux to the old alternation of recitative and full-blown tunes. Here is a mosaic in motion, brilliant and alive beyond any other operatic setting of a Shakespearean subject, Verdi's own "Otello" not excepted. If he laughs at his characters -- some have thought not only cynically, but a little cruelly-he appears at times to be laughing also at his own earlier works-as in the "Povera donna" of Dame Quickly,' which comes straight out of "Traviata," or the jingling reminders of Trovatore" in the scene which brings Ford on with his money.
Tibbett's Fine Achievement.

Yesterday's performance was one of generally high quality. Though Mr. Tibbett did not stand alone in the excellence of his achievement, his was the characterization that set the tone of the revival. His singing was consistently admirable, even a little too fine-grained, perhaps, for the elephantine gourmand he made Sir John out to he. The voice has rarely seemed of more refined and musical quality: he made particularly telling use of a pianissimo. His make-up was a triumph. His acting, which, consciously or unconsciously, resembled that of Antonio Scotti in the previous revival, had both unction and humor. Only in one detail was there a departure from comedy to caricature, that of the re-entry of Sir John in exaggerated finery at the close of the great scene with Ford. In its entirety this Falstaff was the most adroit characterization of Mr. Tibbett's career.

As is well remembered, the American baritone sang Ford to Scotti's Falstaff in the revival of 1925 and it was his impassioned delivery of the monologue, "E sogno, o realta" that precipitated the demonstration which made him famous, overnight. Those whose memories of "Falstaff" carry them back to the still earlier revival will recall that Campanari also brought down the house with the air of furious jealousy. This the Ford of yesterday's revival. John Brownlee, had not the weight of voice to do, but he sang the scene with spirit and well deserved the brief but honest salvo of applause- directed his way.

A Praiseworthy Ensemble.

The honors otherwise were chiefly for the women. Bruna Castagna was sonorously delightful as Dame Quickly. Maria Caniglia's Mistress Ford was easily her best achievement at the Metropolitan. Irra Petina as Mistress Page and Marisa Morel as Nanetta (Ann Ford) completed the feminine ensemble altogether likeably. Little fault was to be found with their male companions. Charles Kullmann was a youthful-appearing Fenton who sang agreeably. The Pistol of tall Norman Cordon and the Bardolph of short Alessio de Paolis were droll and vocally competent. The same can be said for the Dr. Caius of Giordano Paltrinieri, a survival from the last previous performances of the opera. Also a holdover was the apple-munching innkeeper of Ludwig Burgstaller, whose capital bit of dumb show justified the placing of his name in the program.

"Falstaff," of course, is primarily an ensemble opera and much rests with the conductor. It was not in the cards that Ettore Panizza would achieve the miracle of Toscanini performances of the work, here and abroad. What Panizza accomplished was a creditable rather than a brilliant exposition of score as difficult as it is remarkable. The opera had "pace,"' if not all it has been known to I possess of sparkle. The stage was well managed by Herbert Graf, If not as fresh as they once were, the sets of the last previous revival contributed their measure of atmosphere and charm.

The performance was for the benefit of the Florence Crittenton League, and was given at advanced prices. The attendance was of good if not capacity size, and the applause of a hearty rather than a tempestuous order. A masterpiece is not necessarily a sensation. To complete a full day of opera, another noteworthy revival of the season, Gluck's "Orfeo" was repeated last night, with Kerstin Thorborg heading the same cast as before, and with Artur Bodanzky conducting.

Added Index Entries for Subjects and Names

Back to short citation(s).