Griffel, Gale, Condò, Penkova; Cosotti, Fryatt, Dickerson, Luxon, Gramm, Trama; Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, London Philharmonic, Pritchard. Production: Ponnelle. Opus Arte 02 315 D, 118 mins., subtitled
Opus Arte has rereleased Glyndebourne's 1976 Falstaff, designed and directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle with an interesting ensemble under the capable baton of John Pritchard. No complaints about the London Philharmonic! The color, focus and sonics occasionally betray the age of the filming (by Dave Heather), but it's quite an enjoyable performance, in period garb in front of wooden rooms and airy vistas. Ponnelle had a fine visual sense; if his blocking is sometimes too busy, the complicated interactions Boito's libretto demands are well worked out.
The set preserves a rare European appearance by the under-recorded American bass-baritone Donald Gramm (1927–83), a mainstay of New York City Opera and Opera Company of Boston and a valuable, versatile player at the Met and on American concert stages for decades. Gramm provided extraordinary verbal clarity and nuance, seemingly in any language. To my student eyes and ears, his 1979 NYCO Falstaff proved understated — droll rather than explosively funny, though always musical and honest. And so he registers here. Gramm listens, and he motivates everything Sir John says and does. His voice makes Falstaff's music emerge considerably leaner than does a refulgent Taddei or Terfel sound. Gramm saves falsetto for certain moments and ducks the honor monologue's climactic high G. But he's credibly aristocratic, and his highly inflected underplaying is welcome opposite the fervent overkill laid on by the braying Caius and Bardolfo, John Fryatt and Bernard Dickerson, the rough-voiced Pistola of Ugo Trama and Paul Jackson's Page — too often present and directed to mug insufferably.
Cornish baritone Benjamin Luxon, whose Met career was limited to a mere two Onegins in 1980, was an extraordinarily accomplished concert and stage artist, the creator of much contemporary music, including the title role of Britten's Owen Wingrave. Like Gramm, Luxon relished words; as Ford, he allows us to do the same, offering finesse in phrasing, dynamic subtlety and good sound (without the broad tone of a Panerai or Merrill). In Luxon's hands, Ford's disguise as Master Brook is, for once, credible and amusing. He, Gramm and Nucci Condò, the Quickly, all work well in detailed close-up; the successive scenes between Falstaff and Quickly and Falstaff and Ford are directed and played uncommonly well.
Kay Griffel looks and sounds lovely — in a Mozartean kind of way, always smack on pitch — as a mischievous Alice. Condò's lively, relatively youthful Quickly is a compelling, complex vocal construct encompassing crisp words, straight tone and chest tone. Reni Penkova's Meg is highly satisfactory. Elizabeth Gale and (particularly) Max-René Cosotti are a shade mature for the young lovers. Her pleasant light soprano bests his narrow, if artfully deployed, character tenor in their gossamer duets.
Send feedback to OPERA NEWS.