[Met Performance] CID:149960
Falstaff {64} Matinee Broadcast ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 02/26/1949., Broadcast

(Broadcast
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
February 26, 1949 Matinee Broadcast


FALSTAFF {64}
Giuseppe Verdi--Arrigo Boito

Sir John Falstaff.......Leonard Warren
Alice Ford..............Regina Resnik
Ford....................Giuseppe Valdengo
Dame Quickly............Cloe Elmo
Nannetta................Licia Albanese
Fenton..................Giuseppe Di Stefano
Meg Page................Martha Lipton
Dr. Cajus...............Leslie Chabay
Bardolfo................Alessio De Paolis
Pistola.................Lorenzo Alvary
Innkeeper...............Ludwig Burgstaller

Conductor...............Fritz Reiner

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

Falstaff received three performances this season.



Review of Cecil Smith in Musical America


The "Falstaff" revival was by far the more distinguished production of the two [reference to Pelleas performance], in every department. The musical direction was in the. hands of Fritz Reiner, who had made a notable debut at the Metropolitan less than a fortnight earlier, with an enkindling performance of Strauss' Salome. Herbert Graf, who has finally been granted more adequate rehearsal time this season, repeated a good share of the success he had with Le Nozze di Figaro and Salome. Leonard Warren undertook the title role, singing it in Italian for the first time (he had sung two English performances in '44). Regina Resnik and Martha Lipton were Mistress Ford and Mistress Page; Cloe Elmo. Dame Quickly; Licia Albanese and Giuseppe Di Stefano, Nannetta and Fenton; Giuseppe Valdengo, Ford; Alessio de Paolis and Lorenzo Alvary, Bardolph and Pistol; Leslie Chabay, Dr. Caius; and the veteran Ludwig Burgstaller, the Innkeeper.

Despite the admirable contributions of most of the singers, it was Mr. Reiner's conducting, above all else, that made this Falstaff one of the Metropolitan's finest attainments in many seasons. The orchestral score, by all odds one of the most difficult in the entire repertory to play, was articulated with scrupulous precision and clarity. The wind instruments chattered and burbled gleefully; the strings sang their snatches of lyric melody with transparent tone and attractive sentiment; the trumpets accomplished their trills at the end of the first scene with magnificent bravado; and in the last act the. players achieved dainty pianissimos such as have never been heard from the pit of the Metropolitan in the experience of this listener. In short, all the music was there, completely polished and refined, yet completely lively and spontaneous, and Mr., Reiner maintained a prescient control of its shifting pace that made everything easy for the players and singers and correct for the musical and dramatic nuances. Memorable as the conductor's command of the Strauss score had proved to be a few days earlier, his transfiguration of the "Falstaff" music demonstrated almost more strikingly how much we miss when we do not hear great operatic music conducted by a great craftsman.

In mounting the opera, Mr. Graf was at an initial disadvantage, for unlike the excellent "Salome" and "Marriage of Figaro" settings, the "Falstaff" investiture, designed by Joseph Urban in 1924, is badly dated, and, except for the closing scene in Windsor Park, almost completely unsightly. It was therefore impossible for him, in the very nature of the production at hand, to achieve an entirely satisfying visual illusion. Most of the time he had to be satisfied with establishing clear lines of action and good-looking arrangements of the ensembles. In these aims he was successful. But he could not help it if the Blossom Time bower in which Nannetta and Fenton passed their clandestine moments made both the artists and their action look absurd; nor could he, apparently, induce Miss Albanese to be less kittenish or Mr. Di Stefano to be less of a stick. He could not invest Mr. Warren with an infectious sense of humor, though he was helpful in enabling him to employ devices that served as believable substitutes. And in the final midnight scene in the park, he could not remake the whole style and technique of the ballet, which looked as arty and ill trained as it always does. What he could and did do was to keep the entire performance within the restraint of a single consistent attitude, refusing to let unbridled horseplay divert attention from the central moral theme of the comedy-Falstaff's proper punishment and his elimination as a menace to the honor of all Windsor husbands.

Viewed from this second, and more basic, point of vantage, Mr. Warren's sober-sided impersonation of the fat knight was a genuine success. Because he did not make Falstaff a buffoon, he made Ford's jealousy credible; and at the end he imparted a general rather than a specific ethical implication to the spectacle of Falstaff as a figure of scorn. All this might have been accomplished, however, without failing to convey the full joke of Falstaff's grossness. Mr. Warren's Falstaff was never really fat. His costume did not give a good illusion, for it left his thighs much too slender; and much of the time he moved with a quickness and agility that would be impossible for a man burdened by layers of extra flesh. Mr. Warren gave a painstaking and conscientious stage performance, but one without corporeal actuality.

His singing, however, was quite another matter. Let us put it briefly and say that it was wonderful, from start to finish. His voice was controlled with supreme skill at all times, and he sang with such an abundance of characterization that he supplied vocally many of the subtleties that were absent from his visual interpretation. The beauty of his tone, whether in a hearty full voice or a luminous pianissimo, was extraordinary. He has never sung better at the Metropolitan, nor have many other baritones.

The quartet of ladies was expert, down to the last dotted i and crossed t. Miss Resnik at last found an ideal assignment as Mistress Ford. She far surpassed anything she has done before at the Metropolitan, maintaining a delightfully poised tone when the vocal line moved high, and tossing off the scale passages and flourishes with glittering brilliance. The music of Dame Quickly lay perfectly in Miss Elmo's almost baritonal lower register, and she enacted her whole, part with superb vehemence and high spirits. Martha Lipton, allotted less responsibility in the way of solo passages, was a comely and musically dependable Mistress Page. Miss Albanese, however, was miscast as Nannetta, despite her expert contribution to the ensembles. Singing full voice virtually all the time, she eradicated the wistfulness of Nannetta's exquisite, tiny threads of melody ; and in the forest scene she dispelled the mystery of the midsummer night by continuing to sing loudly in her invocation of the nymphs and elves, flouting Verdi's repeated markings of dolce, dolcissimo, and morendo.

Mr. Valdengo made a good vocal effect with Ford's monologue, though he was not impressive as an actor. Mr. Di Stefano made a tentative approach to the role of Fenton, which was new to him; not withstanding many agreeable passages, especially in the last act in Dal labbro it canto, his singing was largely deficient in both style and communicativeness-though ultimately the music should be ideally suited to his beautiful light voice. Mr. Chabay's portrait of Dr. Caius was a minor masterpiece. Mr. De Paolis and Mr. Alvary contributed to the general merriment, though their manners of comic acting are as widely separated in viewpoint and taste as Italy and Central Europe.

To this observer, the decision to revert to Italian was a mistake. The lines and situations are worth following n detail, and the English version of '44-'45 enabled the audience to have a great deal more fun. Since Mr. Warren had learned the title role in English at that time, it seemed a curious archaism to require him to relearn it in Italian.



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