OP3237. FALSTAFF, Live Performance, 8 March, 1986, w.Levine Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Giuseppe Taddei, Carol Neblett, Fiorenza Cossotto, Judith Blegen, Allan Monk, Douglas Ahlstedt, Italo Tajo, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio stereo YSL T-653. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"Verdi's valedictory masterpiece is arguably the greatest ensemble opera ever written; around the sun of its protagonist, the other characters orbit in a vocal constellation, with only Ford and Dame Quickly noticeably standing out on occasion as individuals. Consequently, apart from Falstaff, the opera requires sound, healthy voices that blend well rather than a great deal of individual interpretive finesse to carry the work. Here, all those elements are fully present. Making his belated Metropolitan Opera debut at age 69 (four years older than Magda Olivero when she appeared there as Tosca in 1975), Giuseppe Taddei is in remarkably fine form. His top notes are somewhat unsteady, though they are generally not sustained and so that is not a major issue, and his voice is not as plush as in his prime, but apart from that he is a pleasure to listen to, and of course he is also an absolutely masterful interpreter. Allan Monk provides a first-rate Ford; Fiorenza Cossotto is a colorful Dame Quickly, though she pushes her vibrato a bit hard to get a comically exaggerated effect in her salutations of 'Reverenza!'; Carol Neblett (sadly, recently deceased) and Brenda Boozer offer a well-matched pair of Windsor wives, while Judith Blegen and Douglas Ahlstedt give equal pleasure as sweet-voiced, ardent young lovers. (It's a bonus to have such a vocally attractive Fenton, a part that often seems to be cast as an afterthought.) Among the comprimario singers, veterans Charles Anthony, Anthony Laciura, and Italo Tajo (the latter as always a real treat) warrant special notice as Dr. Cajus, Bardolph, and Pistola, respectively. My only very slight caveat comes with James Levine's conducting. While precise and energetic, he misjudges a few tempo relations, particularly in the notoriously tricky Act I nonet, and the gear changes in such instances are evident and somewhat awkward. (Admittedly, only Toscanini has achieved perfectly magical fluidity at this juncture.) Other than that, he is in fine fettle.
The sound quality is that of a good FM stereo broadcast of the era; given its relatively recent vintage, apparently this Canadian label is not concerned about any possible legal action from the Met to block this release. There are no booklet notes; the back tray card provides the cast, and the front insert the list of tracks and characters singing in those but no timings. Sensibly, instead of trying to even out disc timings by dividing act two in half, the first two acts are placed on CD 1 and the third act on CD 2. While not quite equaling the classic recordings by Toscanini (RCA), Karajan (Angel), or Solti's first take (Decca) for stellar interpretive distinction, this is a very fine rendition that provides a welcome second take on Taddei's Falstaff 36 years after his notable 1950 monaural Cetra recording, and is cordially recommended."
- James A. Altena, FANFARE
"Taddei's 1985 Met debut in FALSTAFF - an opera he had first recorded in 1949 - was a triumph, his characterization a marvel of wit and comic invention that glowed with the relaxed mastery of an artist in his prime. No other Falstaff was quite so lovable a scamp; Taddei's deliciously witty 'Quand'ero paggio' was delivered as a crisp, pointed aside that seemed like a whisper but filled every corner of the house. It was an irresistible - and unforgettable - moment in a richly detailed performance imbued with the ripeness of Indian summer. Taddei sang eleven Met FALSTAFFs in the 1985-86 season and returned to the company in 1988 for ten performances as Dulcamara in L'ELISIR D'AMORE, another of his signature roles."
F. Paul Driscoll, OPERA NEWS, 3 June, 2010
"The debutant was Giuseppe Taddei, making his first Met appearance at age 69 in the title role of Verdi's FALSTAFF. Mr. Taddei, who has been one of the leading baritones on the international scene for nearly half a century (he made his opera debut in Rome in 1936), arrived with a glittering splash. His Falstaff, not only wittily acted and fully formed, was astonishingly well sung. The voice is not exactly plummy these days, but it retains a wonderfully liquid quality in lyric passages as well as the ability to bark out in the buffo style that for most Falstaffs is the beginning and end of the vocal gamut."
- Donal Henahan, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 Sept., 1985
“Giuseppe Taddei was a distinguished Italian baritone who made his Metropolitan Opera début to glowing notices in 1985 at the astonishing age of 69. Born in Genoa on 26 June, 1916, Mr. Taddei made his operatic début in 1936, as the Herald in a production of Wagner’s LOHENGRIN in Rome. In the decades that followed he performed on many of the great opera stages of Europe, including those of the Vienna State Opera, La Scala and Covent Garden. In the 1950s, Mr. Taddei appeared in the United States with the San Francisco and Dallas Civic Operas; he was also long known to listeners here through his many recordings. In the 1960s, he sang in New York in concert performances. But until 25 Sept., 1985, when he stepped onto the stage at Lincoln Center in the title role of Verdi’s FALSTAFF, Mr. Taddei had never sung at the Met. At his curtain call, THE NEW YORK TIMES reported, Mr. Taddei received ‘a rafter-shaking ovation’.
Opera exacts a great toll on the voice. Singers often retire in their 50's, at least from weightier fare. Appearing at a major opera house in one’s late 60s is highly unusual; making a début at that age, breathtakingly so. To do so to the kind of rapturous reviews Mr. Taddei received is almost beyond contemplation. What apparently stood Mr. Taddei in good stead was the Italian bel canto tradition — the lighter, less forceful style of singing in which he had been trained — which can let its practitioners extend their careers beyond the usual retirement age. In all, Mr. Taddei performed with the Met 21 times. Besides Falstaff, which he sang in 1985 and 1986, he appeared as Dr. Dulcamara in L’ELISIR D’AMORE in 1988.
Reviewing Mr. Taddei’s Met début in The Times, Donal Henahan wrote: ‘His Falstaff, not only wittily acted and fully formed, was astonishingly well sung. The voice is not exactly plummy these days, but it retains a wonderfully liquid quality in lyric passages’.
If Mr. Taddei could sing like that at 69, then why had the Met not signed him in even plummier days? As Mr. Taddei explained in a 1985 interview with The Times, the reasons centered on diplomacy, or rather what he saw as the lack of it. In 1951, he said, Rudolf Bing, then the Met’s general manager, asked him to audition. That did not sit well with Mr. Taddei, who was already a star in Europe. He declined Mr. Bing’s request. In 1958, Mr. Taddei said the Met tried to engage him again, at $600 a week. That did not sit well with Mr. Taddei, who asked for more money. The Met declined his request. A quarter-century went by. Then, in the early 1980s, after Mr. Taddei sang a well-received Falstaff at the Salzburg Festival in Austria, Mr. Levine, the Met’s music director, approached him. He offered Mr. Taddei the part of Fra Melitone in Verdi’s FORZA DEL DESTINO — a role typically billed sixth from the top. That did not sit well with Mr. Taddei . As he told THE TIMES, ‘I said thank you, but coming for the very first time, I think I should come as protagonista’. And thus, as Falstaff, Mr. Taddei went onstage a world-renowned singer and came back a star.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 4 June, 2010
"Carol Neblett, a soprano who sang numerous roles at New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, sang all over the world after making her City Opera debut as Musetta in Puccini's LA BOHEME in 1969. She sang the title role in Puccini's TOSCA more than 300 times, the first in 1976 at the Lyric Opera in Chicago with Luciano Pavarotti as Mario Cavaradossi.
The impresario Sol Hurok took her onto his roster and encouraged her to try opera. Her City Opera debut in 1969 impressed Allen Hughes, who reviewed the performance for THE TIMES. Almost 20 years later, in 1988, when she performed her first Aida with Opera Pacific, Martin Bernheimer of THE LOS ANGELES TIMES wrote, 'Tall, lithe and eminently sympathetic, she must be one of the most attractive 'and most formidable' Aidas in history - she worked steadily for decades, making her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1979 in Wagner's THE FLYING DUTCHMAN'. Harold C. Schonberg, the critic for THE NEW YORK TIMES, called her 'the surprise of the evening', adding, 'Never has she unleashed so powerful and commanding a voice'."
- Neil Genzlinger, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 28 Nov., 2017