Deutsche Grammophon's reissue of its live 1988 recording of Falstaff with Carlo Maria Giulini conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic is a welcome addition to the catalog. Much of the credit goes to Giulini, who leads a sparkling and vivacious reading of the score. A piece as musically mercurial as Falstaff requires a sure hand to keep things moving along meaningfully without descending into exaggeratedly broad comedy, and Giulini masterfully maintains a lightness as well as giving attention to the score's larger musical architecture. The performance by the orchestra and chorus is playful, elegant, and lush, beautifully capturing the variety of the opera's moods. The cast is uniformly fine, just what one would hope for in an opera that's as much an ensemble piece as Falstaff. Renato Bruson's Falstaff is a lovable rogue, whose personal foibles are ultimately endearing. His voice is not particularly large, but it's warm, with a ringing top, and he uses it with humor, intelligence, and a sure sense of drama. While he may not have the larger-than-life presence and charisma of the greatest Falstaffs, his portrayal is humane and thoroughly sympathetic. Apart from Katia Ricciarelli as Alice Ford, Barbara Hendricks as Nanetta, and Leo Nucci as Ford, the cast is made up of little-known singers. There's not a weak link in the fine ensemble, though, and the result is thoroughly satisfying, in spite of the lack of more star power. Deutsche Grammophon's sound is very clean for a live recording; there's very little ambient noise, and the singers' movements create a good sense of drama without ever sounding too close or too distant. This is an altogether rewarding and appealing version of Falstaff, in which musical, dramatic, and sonic values are high.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2