Verdi began his career with a serious opera: Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio, a work that already revealed future marvels to come from him. Next, he composed Un giorno di regno – an early work that turned out to be his only comic opera. Well, not quite.
The critics savaged it, the public hated it, and compounded by personal tragedy, it almost brought Verdi’s career to an end. But the Milanese impresario Bartolomeo Merelli would not tolerate an admission of defeat by Verdi, and he all but forced the libretto of Nabucco on the composer, placing Solera’s draft on Verdi’s hands and slamming the door behind him after sending him home to compose.
Five decades and three years later Falstaff saw the light. One would think, in listening to this work of genius that Verdi had been writing comic operas all of his working life, such is the humor and humanity present in this story told to music about the fat knight who meets his comeuppance when he tries to woo two married ladies with the exact same love letter.
Verdi wrote this, his one and only true comic masterpiece with the great French bass-baritone Victor Maurel in mind, a superb singing actor who had created the role of Iago in Verdi’s Otello. He knew what to expect from Maurel but had his doubts about the singers of his time who, in his words, could only sing at the top of their lungs and not properly express the words. Luckily, Verdi got a deluxe ensemble cast, with Antonio Pini-Corsi as Ford, Emma Zilli as Alice, Adelina Stehle as Nanetta, Giuseppina Pasqua as Mistress Quickly, and Virginia Guerrini as Meg Page.
The Dynamic release of a video of a 2021 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino production has Sir John Elliot Gardiner in the pit and a cast as good as the original surely was: Nicolas Alaimo in the title role, Simone Piazzola as Ford, Ailyn Perez, as Alice Ford, Francesca Boncompagni as Nanetta,, Sara Mingardo as Mistress Quickly, and Caterina Piva as Meg Page.
The production by Sven Eric Bechtoff mercifully stays honest to period and setting, complimented by handsome sets by Julian Crouch, elegant costumes by Kevin Pollard, cheerful lighting by Alex Brok, all given a vivid reproduction in the superb video of Tiziano Mancini, delivering an altogether happy result.
Rafael de Acha © 2022