[Met Performance] CID:197440
New production
Falstaff {67} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/6/1964.

(Debuts: Luigi Alva, Leonard Bernstein, Franco Zeffirelli

Metropolitan Opera House
March 6, 1964
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
for the production funds
New production

Giuseppe Verdi--Arrigo Boito

Sir John Falstaff.......Anselmo Colzani
Alice Ford..............Gabriella Tucci
Ford....................Mario Sereni
Dame Quickly............Regina Resnik
Nannetta................Judith Raskin
Fenton..................Luigi Alva [Debut]
Meg Page................Rosalind Elias
Dr. Cajus...............Paul Franke
Bardolfo................Andrea Velis
Pistola.................Norman Scott

Conductor...............Leonard Bernstein [Debut]

Production..............Franco Zeffirelli [Debut]
Designer................Franco Zeffirelli [Debut]
Choreographer...........William Burdick

The production a gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Falstaff received fifteen performances this season.

Review of Irving Kolodin Saturday Review

In this sixth "Falstaff" that [Franco] Zeffirelli has staged and designed in various parts of the world, the light as well as the shade are so brilliantly depicted in the action that even the unknowing should be captivated by its recreation of a bygone era...From its beginning in the musty but solid interior of the Garter Inn, through the sunlit garden with its flowering shrubbery and the elegant "lived-in" living room of Ford's house to the strikingly evocative conclusion in the moonlit forest, it is a triumph of artistic mind over the highly material obstacle of flat floors, no machinery and inadequate ways of getting things on and off between scenes,

Into this self-created visual world, the still youthful Italian has cajoled into being a dramatic action that is animated but not stagy, full of lifelike touches-such as the burlap sack Falstaff plucks off the Garter wall in Scene 1 of Act III to wrap around him after his immersion in the Thames-that are ingenious without being obtrusive.

As [Leonard] Bernstein is five "Falstaff" productions behind Zeffirelli, his direction does not yet command the same assurance of touch. But there is no conceivable doubt that musical theater is his predestined milieu, that he gives more to it and it takes more from him that even his concert conducting. He plunged into the performance with a kind of bull-in-a-china-shop recklessness, tending to pull up and slow down when something fragile impends. But by the strength of his impulse, as well as the fertility of his mind, he achieved a sense of exhilaration in the pleasures of this marvelous score that is enormously infectious.

So much for the B to Z within the parentheses of Bernstein and Zeffirelli. Currently lacking is the A of a really distinguished Falstaff. Anselmo Colzani works hard, plays well, sings perhaps too much, doesn't characterize as successfully as the text and words permit. There is little but joy in the musical ensemble otherwise (that little is the Ford of Mario Sereni, a rather stock Italian model rather than the English type wanted). Gabriella Tucci sings a delightful Alice and looks the "sirena" described in the text. Rosalind Elias is almost demure as Meg, and Regina Resnik reaches her career's peak with a Dame Quickly that is not merely chucklesome but lovable. Judith Raskin was a sweet-sounding Nannetta and a delight to watch, a worthy companion to the assured Fenton of the accomplished Luigi Alva in his debut.

Review of Jay Harrison in Musical America

The Metropolitan Opera, which has been having a rheumatic season, corrected all its errors in a flash on March 6 with its production of Giuseppe Verdi's "Falstaff" which was, in my opinion, one of the finest evenings to be had anywhere in the lyric theater. The genius of the occasion - and I do not use the word lightly - was Franco Zeffirelli, who staged the work and designed the costumes and sets. It is only appropriate, therefore, to deal with him first, as the manner and tone of the interpretation was largely carried on his shoulders.

As a director, Zeffirelli is clearly the greatest in the business, since he orchestrates the stage doings to the point that every character is wholly in league with the music. There is not a note sounded in the pit without a visual reflection of its meaning. This made "Falstaff" a bit busy, but, then, the work is a busy score whose fantasy never ever takes a deep breath. It is a continuous chain of daffy circumstances and every one was placed squarely within the audience's view. Staging such as his has gone out of fashion largely because no one about is equipped to make it fashionable. But I take an oath that the brilliancy, brightness and fidelity to Verdi's intentions of Zeffirelli's ideas have not been duplicated in this generation.

Now to the matter of the set designs. They were literal and took into account the virtuosity that Tudor architects were able to bring to their formal structures. All the planks were in place, all the angles in perfect proportion. And, incidentally, the apportionment of sets allowed Zeffirelli to make marvelous effects with the highs and lows he created with his myriad balconies and staircases to the stage proper. And the depth he created in almost every scene made the Met seem as deep in width and length as a terminal used for bus transportation. Further, you could almost smell the must emanating from the "Garter" Inn; you could feel the warmth that lighted Fenton's house; and the trees of the final act all but reached out and embraced the listeners. It was all profoundly right and satisfying. The Met has nothing like it currently on view.

Then there were the costumes, an instance of one indicating the quality of the others. When Falstaff goes a-courting in the second act he is dressed to the nines - but the clothes do not quite fit. In his former days (and with a former figure) they might have been perfect, but now he has outgrown them. Zeffirelli, indeed, has put everyone into a costume which makes it a part of his character. There is not a singer on stage whose clothes are not part of the production's overall effect.

Zeffirelli, on this occasion, was making his Met debut as was Leonard Bernstein, who conducted. His leadership proved what we all know from his concerts - he is born to drama and thrives on it. Every accent of the score was securely placed, every phrase was
neat and chiseled, and every rhythm bounced throughout the hall. Moreover the orchestra played for him, gave every inch of its resource to his beat and baton methods. It was quite an experience, a fantastic one in all ways.

But the story is not over; the singers were superb. Anselmo Colzani as Falstaff was a fat, old lecher who sang like a thin, young hero, and Mario Sereni as Ford did exceedingly well. The Fenton of Luigi Alva, who was making his debut, rang smoothly and Paul Franke was an apposite Dr. Cajus. And Andrea Velis and Norman Scott as Bardolfo and Pistola were as rascally a pair as you have ever witnessed.

The women, too, were all sensational. Gabriella Tucci was divine as Mrs. Ford, Judith Raskin was a touch of sunlight as Nannetta, and Rosalind Elias was broadly lyrical as Mrs. Page. A special word is due Regina Resnik as Mrs. Quickly since she all but stole the show. As actress and singer her work can be commended to any youngster who takes opera to be his goal. Imitating her would seem an ideal way to begin.

Yet there is really no sense at pointing to the solo artists, as "Falstaff" is an ensemble work. There are a few arias, few moments for the display of individual talent. Everything works in tandem and in groups. The combined forces unleashed a performance of a kind that only the greatest companies can produce. What a night - an historic one. And the sound and sight of it still sticks in the ear and eye.

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