Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Email Password  
Not a subscriber yet?  
Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Kurt Moses
American Record Guide, November 2010

The best of these singing actors is Elisabeth Höngen, who shows a genuine gift for comedy without exaggerating it…She also has an alluring and smooth voice, and her German diction is excellent. Her co-conspirators, Alice Ford and Meg Page, also play their parts well. Sparks fly and the comedy is irresistible.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Richard Fairman
Gramophone, October 2010

A precious glimpse of opera in the 1960s, a long way from Shakespeare and Verdi

This DVD is aimed at a specialist audience. Recorded in 1963, it is a black-and-white Austrian television broadcast of Verdi’s opera, performed in the studio in German translation. The picture has been scrubbed up to look remarkably clean for its age, but the orchestra sounds muffled—not surprisingly, as it was actually playing in Vienna Musikverein premises and being relayed to the television studio by cable. The benefit is that the singers could sing live rather than mime, and they all make sure they put across the text clearly. A German-speaking viewer can easily follow every word.

Hellmuth Matiasek’s studio production is as traditional as they come. Set firmly in the Tudor period, it features a nicely realistic old Garter Inn and a garden for the Fords’ house straight out of the Stratford-upon-Avon, while the merry-making around Herne’s Oak becomes a riot of period camp—the “Tudor” hats and hairstyles could only be the 1960s. Every character is true to the Shakespeare original, though some of the acting looks unsubtle in close-up today. Nannetta and Fenton might well regret smooching at each other so luridly and every raised comic eyebrow could have been seen mile away.

The cast is a good one, but not exceptional. Otto Feldman plays a blessedly unexaggerated Falstaff, first cousin to his Baron Ochs (preserved in Karajan’s recording), but does not always sing in tune. The other major names in the cast are Elisabeth Höngen as a not-too-plummy Mistress Quickly and Graziella Sciutti as a bright-voiced “Ännchen”. The others—including Melitta Muszely’s Alice Ford, Hans Günter Grimm’s Ford and Richard van Vrooman’s Fenton—are at least adequate, and Nello Santi conducts the Vienna Symphony Orchestra with an Italianate vigour that is the most Verdian aspect of the performance. As a historical document, this is probably as good as they come.

Robert Croan
Opera News, October 2010

It’s too bad this 1963 Vienna-based production is in German. Had it been in the original Italian, this studio recording from the early days of televised opera might have become a classic rendition of Verdi’s final masterpiece. Everything about it, from Nello Santi’s idiomatic conducting to a mostly excellent cast and the sensible staging of Hellmuth Matiasek, seems quite right.

Max Bignens’s attractive period sets and Annemarie Köhler’s costumes are more modest than those of a Hollywood costume drama from that period, but of the same ilk. The cast moves comfortably in these surroundings. The Nannetta-Fenton scenes are particularly charming and credible, while the business of Falstaff and Ford struggling to get through a narrow door at the same time seems surprisingly spontaneous and not at all ridiculous. The antics in Windsor Forest are funny but not overdone, with just the right hint of sadness for poor Falstaff, who after all, deserves what he gets. Santi’s faithful rendition of the score features excellent ensemble that extends to dramatic ensemble, as well.

At the center is the superbly realized Falstaff of Otto Edelmann, then a consummate artist at the height of his powers. His voice is resonant throughout, solid in the higher octave, penetrating in the lower, enhanced by his musical intelligence and nuanced phrasing. As an actor he inhabits the role, from the bravado of his gorgeously vocalized honor aria to the foolishness of “Quand’ero paggio” (Italian title) to the pathos of his humiliation in Windsor Forest.

The other anchor of this cast is the magnificent Dame Quickly of Elisabeth Höngen. Better known for the Wag­ner–Strauss heavies—Fricka, Herodias, Klytämnestra—the venerable German mezzo shows a piquant sense of humor with a natural characterization that totally avoids caricature. And can she sing it! Rock-solid in the low range without resorting to chest, even all the way up, with clear diction and a face that mirrors what she is singing, this great artist manages to suppress her towering personality when working in consort with the other women of Windsor.

It’s a novelty to hear Graziella Sciutti singing one of her signature Italian roles in excellent German. Her Nannetta is charming and exquisitely sung, her pairing with the lithe, sexually exuberant Fenton of American tenor Richard Van Vrooman quite irresistible. The parent couple—Melitta Muszely and Hans Günter Grimm—are less idiomatic: Muszely is thin-voiced and unable to negotiate Alice’s staccato scale up to high C in her brief Act II solo; Grimm treats Ford as a character part, lacking vocal heft and ease in the high climax of his monologue. Eva Maria Görgen is a sparkling Meg Page, and the Bardolfo–Pistola–Cajus trio of Marshall Raynor, Wolfgang Hackenberg and Erich Klaus is appropriately raucous and raunchy. They come together brilliantly in the closing “All the world’s a stage” fugue, cannily photographed so that each character unmasks one by one in a delightfully quirky, personal way.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group