Cher Public

Come to the unstable

“How, then, to explain the perplexing performance last Friday night of Falstaff, Mr. Levine’s first new production since his return? Nothing went wrong exactly, but nothing went quite right either. Conducting this final masterpiece of Verdi—a Levine specialty at the Met since 1972, his second season with the company—the maestro was off his game.” [New York Observer] (Photo: Ken Howard)

  • laddie

    It is very nice to read James Jorden with a bit less editing than is required at the Post. Thank you.

  • bluecabochon

    Agreed, laddie.

    That’s some painting job on Maestri’s long underwear. Pretty gross, is that’s what he’s supposedly wearing underneath his togs.

    • Clita del Toro

      Oh, I thought that was picture of a new Ring cycle starring Eaglen (pictured with Grane.

      • And the point of that comment would be????

        • laddie

          My thoughts exactly, from the man who would call one an “ASSHOLE” for the slight mention of any harm to a pesky animal.

      • marshiemarkII

        Why the unwarranted hostility to Clita, one of the most beloved parterrians? :twisted”

        • Clita del Toro

          Thanks Marshie. it was just a silly joke. Those two can eat my pussy!

          • marshiemarkII

            Clita LOL! :twisted:

          • Camille

            Meow!

            Bad Clita. No vermouth cassis for you.

            • Clita del Toro

              Cammie! LOLOL

            • Camille

              Joan has a hanger waiting for you…….GUAI!!

            • Clita del Toro

              Cammiest, I don’t need a hanger as I can’t have children. The hysterectomy last week did the trick.
              BTW, I asked Joan if I could have a Vermouth Cassis and she said I’d have to listen to dear Cammiest.

            • marshiemarkII

              Clita!!!!!! 8O

            • Camille

              Clita, we are supposed to be discussing Fallstep on this thread, not goong over your hysterectomy for the fortieth time. Methinks you’ve already HAD a cassis or two.

              I only listened to about half of the performance of Fallstaff on Monday night and even I noticed something a little off, and I don’t know this score very well (perdona Genny from the Block). I don’t know what it was, either. Saturday I will try again.

              Signor Maestri is a real pleasure to listen to as his enunciation of the text is so good. Hmmmmmmmm, still wondering what Weezy --now renamed Whiffey — would have done with the score.

              Does anyone have the recording Giulini made with Renato Bruso. In the early eighties? I attended one performance but was indisposed that night and unable to concentrate at all on the work. I’ve always wondered jow the recording is. Oh, that was one time La Ricciarelli was quite good and just about right for the role. Bruson was not paunchy panza enuf! That’s all I recall now.

            • Quanto Painy Fakor

            • Porgy Amor

              Camille, broadly speaking, it is a Falstaff at the dignified, sober extreme of the spectrum, recommendable for one who prefers that. Giulini considered it a serious opera, and he does not go in for, or allow, a lot of traditional shtick, such as the falsetto imitations of Alice by Falstaff and later Ford. His conducting is relaxed and understated, also beautifully prepared and articulated. There are gains and losses. My own feeling was that the whole did not quite add up to the sum of the parts, although there are exquisite things, such as the delicate touch of most of the Windsor Park scene. Giulini has a likable group of singers, and they are cooperative with the philosophy that governs the performance. Bruson, I suspect, could be funnier in a different production, but makes the most of the kind of Falstaff he is asked to be. The most outstanding in my memory is Hendricks’s Nannetta.

              I enjoyed this, but neither the CD nor the DVD version (Los Angeles and Covent Garden respectively) would be my first choice. I still do not think the old reference picks of Karajan/EMI and Toscanini/RCA have been bettered on records. My favorite video release is the Muti with Maestri and Frittoli.

            • Camille

              Oh thank you both so much, Mo. QPF and Porgy! This is a great help to me in revisiting that Fallstaff of so many years ago now. Even if I had felt well the evening I heard that repetition, I would little enough what the gem was that had dropped into my lap that night. It is a marvel to be able to review it now, with hindsight, and at least a little more familiarity of the score with score at hand, as well.

              Very kind, gentlemen.

        • bluecabochon

          Because the comment was mean-spirited? Just a guess. Even the beloved can surprise you.

          • Clita del Toro

            Oh, please--when I saw the picture of Falstaff in his rags, I swear, I thought it was a woman. Look at it again! So I made a silly joke that it was Brünnhilde.
            I have nothing against Jane Eaglen. As a matter of fact, I think she was better than some of the crappy Wagnerian sopranos around today. I didn’t mean it in a mean-spirited way.
            No, Camille: I had not had a Vervouth Cassis or anything.

            PS Some of the stuff I have read here over the years has been truly mean-spirited—as if no one here has ever made fun of Eaglen! LOL

            • Clita del Toro

              PS I used to know Falstaff very well (it was one of my fav operas in the early 60’s) and wore out my HvK, Gobbi LP recording. The thing about the Falstaff score is that the many, many wonderful melodies come so fast and furiously that they take your breath away. There was something missing in Levine’s conducting--I don’t know what it was--a certain sparkle???
              I first saw the opera in the new Zeff production with Colzani and Bernstein, and LOVED it. Later on, loved it even more when Gobbi sang.

            • luvtennis

              Clita:

              I must confess that I thought it was Eaglen too…..

            • Clita del Toro

              Thank you, luvtenns.

            • Camille

              Yes you did, Clita. And it don’t look nothin’ like poor Jane, neither.

              You and luvt need to get your eyeballs checked out instead of drinking all them highballs.

              Cammiebitchiest

            • Clita del Toro

              Cammiebitchiesterin,

              Look at the picture. The figure looks just as much like Eaglen as it does Maestri. My partner, who didn’t know who it was, thought it was a woman--with no prompting from me.

              LOve, Clitabitchierestesta

            • Camille

              Clita,
              I’m jest jerkin’ your Gherkin’—--pay no heed.

              I blame it all on MarshieMII™.

              Have to get my glad rags on and go now.

              big kussie
              Cammiebitchiesteste

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        • Quanto Painy Fakor

          The original uncut version:

  • grimoaldo

    ‘Lisette Oropesa, floating endless silvery high notes as daughter Nannetta”-yes! I wuvs u Lisette

    “Ms. Damrau missed her entrance to the second act “gambling” scene. (When she finally appeared, all the lights suddenly blacked out, as if her ill-fitting kelly-green chiffon muumuu had blown La Scala’s fuses.”
    also yes -- the most hideous costume ever combined with the worst cock-up on an operatic stage I ever saw.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Tcherniakov’s fades to black were planned, but the first one looked like a power failure and I agree that Violetta was mighty ugly in the fright wig. It was one of two programmed light cues to make the audience believe that Violetta’s soaring phrases (“Ah, perché veni! incauta!” and “Che fia? Morir mi sento!”) were not heard by the others onstage. Unfortunately the very late entrance made it look like a jaw dropping mistake and it also threw the Barone off by pages.

      I’m not surprised to read the account of Levine’s conducting of this Falstaff revival. As well has he knows the score inside out, the women are relative beginners in terms of rendering this difficult music as Verdi requires it to be sung. Personally, I think the Levine burn out started way back with the Zeffirelli Waltraud Meier CARMEN.

      This conductor was having problems too, but the advantages are obvious and Scotto has a ball as Alice:

      Another well-known conductor:
      1936

      1937

      Rita Gorr as Mrs. Quickly!

      • steveac10

        That 90 second clip may be the most engaged and animated I have ever seen Meade onstage. Maybe what the Met needs to do to really let her bloom is to quit casting her in under rehearsed revivals or a few performances at the end of the run of something new. How about a Carsen Norma in a few years?

        • Camille

          How about her sticking to comedy? That was the most alive thing I’ve yet seen, including the Elvira, which I did not think bad at all.

          • Krunoslav

            Y’know, Meade sang the part very cleanly and accurately and yes, she did look more animated than usual and like she was having fun with the other women up there, but she *still* isn’t inhabiting the words like a real artist, and I’ve heard other singers ( particularly Lorengar, in Vienna and San Fran, Maliponte at the Met and Amy Burton, at Glimmerglass)- make Alice a far more individual character and not a ‘generally jolly lady’.

  • Camille

    Lisette Oropesa’s “Sul fil d’un soffio etesio” was excellently rendered, for she sang that very hard, long-lined ascent to her final note just exactly right. Come scritto.
    Brava, divette.

    Oh lord, I just remembered the recording of Licia Albanese singing that same phrase from 1949: Flat, as the proverbial pancake. A shame because of love di Stefano, and Warren, and Chloe Elmo in that. Oh, yes, our Dame Quickly to be, Mme. Resnik.

    • pobrediablo

      Licia wasn’t flat. The orchestra was sharp.

      • Camille

        Vaya al diablo! O a dormir!

        FLAT.

        • Ilka Saro

          After all is said and done, Nanetta’s aria is my favorite piece from Falstaff. I can forgive and forget shortcomings in other parts if Sul Fil is well done.

          • Krunoslav

            Welcome British import:

            • MontyNostry

              Hearing the divine Dame Mags as Nannetta prompts me to ask whether the role is better sung by a young full lyric (see also Freni) or by a lyric-coloratura (eg Oropesa), which seems to be the established practice these days. Of course, a lot depends on whether Alice is being sung by a spinto, which is highly unlikely these days for reasons we all know!

            • armerjacquino

              It’s odd how few great Sophies have recorded Nanetta: it’s a part for Popp, Grist, Battle, Bonney, Persson, no? Certainly Stich-Randall’s is gorgeous.

              Another entry in the Freni/Price list is of course Moffo.

            • I don’t know that I would agree with the Popp/Battle/Grist axis here. The part of Nannetta does not sit particularly high especially in the ensembles, so a very light voice is going to be difficult to balance for example in the quartets with the “wives.” Oropesa is musical and attractive in the part but I think the voice is a bit wispy for a large theater and the full orchestral sound Levine prefers in this piece.

              Don’t get me wrong, she is a very good artist and she is wonderfully charming in this part, and as musical as one could want. But I do think a slightly fuller sound would fit better into the whole.

            • armerjacquino

              Yes, I’d agree with that in the theatre. I was thinking of recordings, where size of voice is less of an issue.

            • Krunoslav

              Hednricks is another Sophie who recrprded Nannetta.

              Toscanini preferred a lirico-spinto Nannetta . In his 1909 Met NP he deployed Frances Alda; granted Destinn, an Ada and the first Minnie, was Alice,but Ada continued in the role through 1927, under Serafin, when Alice as played by Bori-- who surely had a smaller instrument!

              One of the Rasponi divas talks about having been asked to sing Nannetta by Toscanini for Salzburg instead of her usual part of Alice-- I think Augusta Oltrabella? Her ‘parade part” was Suor Angelica, not something many Nannettas have undertaken- though Freni did in the studio.

              In 1994 the winsome, retiring Angela Gheorghiu sang Nannetta in Vienna opposite the Alice of Nancy Gustafson.

            • Krunoslav

              Christ!

              “he deployed Frances Alda; granted Destinn, an Aida and the first Minnie, was Alice,but Alda continued in the role…”

            • messa di voce

              And then AT used the strange but not small-voiced Stich-Randall, a Donna Anna at the Met and Vienna.

            • Regina delle fate

              Glorious! Is that from the Welsh National Opera 1969 Falstaff with all-Welsh singers, including Geraint as the Fat One, Delme Bryn-Jones, Lizzie Vaughan, Helen Watts, Ryland Davies, Joan Davies et al? Does anyone have a recording of it all?

            • Regina delle fate

              I saw Grist in a Munich Falstaff auf Deutsch -- it was as if Blondchen had learned the wrong music….But she was very pretty. The tenor was also on the light side -- Claes-Haakon Ahnsjö -- often referred to in reviews as The New Wunderlich -- that didn’t turn out very well. He later became the director, briefly, of the Royal Swedish Opera.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor


      • messa di voce

        Licia makes it sound like a call to battle.

      • Camille

        Thank you for posting, Maestro QPF. I had been unaware they were available as had heard them only via Sirius. She not only oscillates widely and wildly off the pitch downwards (flat, in my book, but not everyone’s), but she is singing this pezzo an entire half-step downwards in transposition, to boot! AND, she takes a breath—not allowed and Miss Oropesa did not take that liberty—before “i fior!”.

        Bad Licia, and it’s not really clear why she should/would be singing an ingenue role at this point in her career, anyway. Love the rest of this recording, however, which I’ve heard a couple times now over Sirius. And Leonard Warren was, certainly, ‘sottile‘.

        • I believe breath or no breath is up to the singer here. If she can get the maestro to follow her on the ascent then by all means do the phrase in one breath, it’s lovely that way. But there are days when one is a bit short of breath, or something distracting happens and you don’t get as good a breath as you would like, or the conductor’s mind is off in outer space somewhere and he’s slowing down the whole time. Or something in the staging goes wrong. In these real-world situations, a Nannetta should have this optional breath planned out in case she needs to take it, and she should be sure that the maestro knows where the extra breath will be if, as and when.

          This is a very tricky place for the soprano and so I think “not allowed” is too strict. Surely an important point here is as lovely a high A-natural as possible, and it the choice comes down taking a quick breath or a mediorce high note, I am all in favor of the breath.

          • Camille

            It’s “not allowed” only in the sense of what Verdi actually wrote, not that it’s not allowed as a coping mechanism. Miss Oropesa, and what with all the real world around her, was still able to sing the entire phrase in one, and as it was written. There is also a marking of morendo over the second measure, on that long held (nine beats) high A, , so that would help the singer out considerably. Verdi was a real taskmaster, and expected these abilities from his singers.

            Now, even LO may have it marked out in a certain way for those off times, which are most of the time. And, God knows where Levine’s head is these days, if after forty years of conducting this work, he is not precisely on the mark….

            All the same, it is a bit of a feat and I was delighted to hear her do it, and so well. So, bully for HER! We’ll see if she can keep it up.

            • Quanto Painy Fakor

              Judith Raskin was a very special singer and Bernstein was right to have chosen her for the MET Falstaffs. She died much too young.

        • Quanto Painy Fakor

          The recording is pitched incorrectly with a very obvious shift in speed for several measures, then it remains out of key. That’s not Licia’s fault. There are better preservations of that broadcast.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    The Ponnelle Falstaff:

  • Ilka Saro

    “debuting”. It’s a perfectly legitimate word, for me, and it’s one I’ve probably spoken. But in looking at it now, I can’t help wondering how to pronounce it!

    Would it make the rhyme “I am ruing suing the debuting Ewing” for instance?

    “I drove da debuting debutante in da Buick”?

    Let’s face it. English spelling is a g***m nuisance.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      depends where you’re from. Some non-native speakers of English might even say de-boo-ting instead of de-byou-ting. Dictionaries give both (hopefully the IPA characters will appear here, but also note the stress: |?de?bju?, -bu?| |?d?bju?t??, ?de?-| |?d?bj?t??nt, ?de?-|

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        sorry! they turned to mush.

      • Ilka Saro

        So debuting could rhyme with rebooting? I hadn’t even seen that one, because my own dialect would insert that y instantly, de-byoot-ing.

        Which puts the word dangerously close to how some folks say Debussy. De-byOO-sy. I don’t judge. I just observe… I know a pianist from central Illinois who says Debussy this way, and plays his musically very beautifully.

        But my own pronunciation of debuting definitely rhymes with Ewing.

      • Lurker_del_Cairo

        There is no pronounced “t” in debuting. According to the website Forvo, both the oral pronunciation (mp3) and phonetic spelling indicate:

        day-BYOO-ing

  • MontyNostry

    Tomassini must read these reviews and tremble — or he would if he had any perception.

  • m. p. arazza

    This review, like the others I’ve read, stops short of actually venturing to compare this Falstaff with Levine’s other Falstaffs of the past — were they really that different? I only ask this because, while Falstaff is one of the crowning glories of the musical imagination — and one of the main reasons I was drawn to opera in the first place — it has never really clicked for me in the house, and I’ve never been sure whether that’s because of the old production, the conducting, or the Met itself.

  • mercadante

    I thought Alice Ford topped out at high B not high C. A long time since I looked at the score, but I think I’m right.

    • peter

      Don’t Alice and Nanetta both sing a high C at the very end of the fugue?

    • casualoperafan

      The roles does not top out at B. Her little arietta “Gaie comare di Windsor” also touches high C as well as the finale with sustained. I don’t recall any others in specificity but B is not the uppermost note, FWIW.

      Sorry for repetition, posted this in the wrong place earlier

  • operaassport

    Falstaff is one of those operas that doesn’t start slow and build. It has to be completely alive from the first note. As I listened to the first broadcast, it didn’t feel that was happening. It seemed somewhat lifeless. By the time it had picked up, I lost interest.

    • Jamie01

      I’m hoping they find their stride later in the run. There are still plenty of tickets available even for the weekend performances around the holidays, which you would expect to be very in demand.

  • casualoperafan

    Her little “arietta” Gaie comare di Windsor also touches C. Don’t recall the rest in specificity but the role definitely does not top out at B.

  • turings

    Is there a sparklingly funny Falstaff production out there? I saw the new Christof Loy one for the Deutsche Oper in Berlin a couple of weeks ago with a young energetic cast, and it was fun but not funny. It was set in the Casa di Riposa, and there was a lot of play about age/youth, in that the singers kept taking off and putting on fat suits and bald wigs – presumably to signify ‘inner youth’ and the enlivening effects of the various plots (a bit ageist, but there you go). The overall effect was more hectic than anything though.

    Porgi, I was thinking after about Furlanetto and baritone roles, and one of the ones he says he wanted to do but couldn’t was Falstaff – which would have been fun. Apparently San Diego were going to put it on for him. It’s in the Jampol book, Living Opera, where he also talks about Escamillo and Iago being too high for him.

    • Buster

      Thanks Turings, I was curious about these performances. How did Barbara Haveman do?

      • turings

        Well, I thought – and she had noticeably more authority and experience on stage than most of her colleagues.

        It was an oddly balanced cast, in that they asked a young artist in residence, Noel Bouley, to take the title role when Markus Brück had to withdraw. He was as good as you could reasonably hope in the circumstances, but his voice was not big, and he didn’t manage to do anything to dispel the idea that Falstaff is really a virtuoso part for an older man.

        I really liked Elena Tsallagova as Nanetta, who I’d never heard before – something very pretty about her singing.

        • oedipe

          I like Tsallagova too. Very pretty voice.

          • MontyNostry

            Here’s Tsallagova in an aria I last heard sung (precariously, but she got through it) by Popsy. This is my first encounter with her -- she reminds me more than a little of La Battaglia!
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMG7VNZFXno

            • semira mide

              I was sitting literally right below the box when she sang that in the Teatro Rossini in 2011! Exquisite. She was a graduate that summer of the Accademia Rossiniana.
              The following summer she sang Amenaide the Rossini Opera Festival’s Tancredi, and last summer she triumphed in L’occasone fa il Ladro where her comic talents were evident. It is gratifying to see a young singer blossom like she has.

        • Buster

          Thanks again! Unbelievable Amsterdam hired Fiorenza Cedolins to sing Alice, instead of Haveman. If I want to hear her this year, I have to go to Cologne (Tove), or to Liege (Tosca). Idiotic.

          • Regina delle fate

            Cedolins sounded miscast and heavyweight in Salzburg Buster, but is Haveman really such a star. I heard her Eva in a concert Meistersinger which was pretty good, but the DNO surely miscast her as Hélène in Vêpres, no? THose are the only two times I have seen her, so maybe they weren’t her best showing.

            • Buster

              Haveman did DNO a huge favor stepping in as Helene at the very last moment, Regina. They were desperate to find someone who could sing the role. It just seems odd to me she has not been invited back since.

    • Regina delle fate

      That’s two Falstaffs set in the Casa di Riposo in the same year. Michielletti’s Salzburg production was the opposite of fun. Glyndebourne’s Richard Jones staging had a vintage revival this year with a better cast, including the adorable Ailyn Perez as a very youthful and beautiful Alice, and better conductors than on the DVD of the production when it was new (I think in 2009). Laurent Naouri -- whom I always think of a Golaud type temperamentally, was a surprisingly funny Falstaff. Best thing at Glynditz this summer, though I didn’t see the revival of Parterre Favourite Michael Grandage’s Billy Budd. That is coming to BAM in January, I read somewhere.

      • grimoaldo
      • turings

        The setting didn’t really matter that much to the Loy production in any case – it began entertainingly with a ‘silent movie’ projection which told us this was the Casa di Riposa, we heard Bouley sing, the screen went up, and there they all were, just as in the film. But if we hadn’t been told (in writing) at the beginning, there wouldn’t have been much clue where we were from the rest of the piece. The characters weren’t drawn as musicians, for instance, and it didn’t really play out as anything other than a vaguely institutional space with older (and then younger and then older) occupants, unless I was missing something.

        I must check out the DVD of the Jones production – I’ve only seen clips.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        I would not cross the street to see Naouri in a major role.

  • stehparterre

    Well, let me (and I am not alone in my opinion) tell the truth; the problem was Mr. Levine. We love him for all that he gave to the Met, but we see now: it’s over, it’s time to retire Mr. Levine. This Falstaff was not the level we should have at the Met.
    They have some great conductors to take over: YNZ, Luisi, Jurowsky…. For Falstaff Luisi would have been the best choice probably (I saw his Falstaf in Vienna and Barcelona -- amazing!). But we need a new Music Director at the Met.
    Please Mr. Levine, retire with dignity. You have been a great man, we want to remember you as such.

    • Camille

      What do we do? Hold up banners saying “Jimmy, we love you, but PLEASE retire?”

      I am guessing that since Falstaff itself is supposed to be the miraculous ref lowering of genius in an old man (Verdi), we are supposed to believe that is what, similarly, is happening in casus Levine…..?

      Not even sure now I’ll go to see the repetition in the theaters…sooner or later it will be playing on a television in my house.

      • Camille

        Better still, and since this is Falstaff aka FallSTEP —-

        DER FALL LEVINE

    • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

      There will be no Levine retirement from the Met unless he has a serious medical relapse, or voluntarily vacates (doubtful). We must wait until master behind-the-scenes puppeteer Ronald Wilford expires or steps down to possibly see any significant changes, erosion of Levine’s power base and consequent cutting of strings.