OP3346. FALSTAFF, Live Performance, 26 Feb., 1949, w.Reiner Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Leonard Warren, Giuseppe Valdengo, Giuseppe di Stefano, Cloe Elmo, Regina Resnik, Licia Albanese, Alessio de Paolis, Lorenzo Alvary, Leslie Chabay & Ludwig Burgstaller. 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-944
“Listening to this performance of FALSTAFF over the years, I have found myself warming to it. I used to think Fritz Reiner’s conducting was too clipped and aggressive, but over time I have come to see it as bubbly and energetic. One cannot deny that the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, not a consistent source of excellence in the 1940s and 50s, plays brilliantly here. Reiner’s careful attention to balances, chord voicing, and shifting dynamics makes for a vital reading that never sags. The newly improved sound quality over many previous releases of this broadcast also helps. Early releases on labels like Arlecchino and Walhall offered dreadful sound. A later release on Guild was a huge improvement, and then Sony issued it in a ‘Verdi at the Met’ box set that was similar to Guild’s in quality. St. Laurent Studio’s new version is a bit warmer and mellower, less harsh, than anything that has come before.
Reiner may be one of the principal reasons to obtain this set, but there are many vocal splendors as well. We don’t think of Leonard Warren as a comic baritone, and he does take a while to loosen up. Vocally he is impressive throughout, with a rich, warm voice ideally suited to Verdi. His soft singing may surprise those who think of Warren as a powerhouse, but if we remember the hushed manner in which he sang Iago’s ‘Era la notte’, we realize that a huge range of dynamics and vocal color were always in his arsenal. Falstaff’s big scene opening the third act is perfectly characterized as anger and depression are turned to warmer thoughts by some wine. All is made clear by vocal color and specificity of inflection.
The rest of the cast is also at a very high level. The Alice of Regina Resnik, early in her career as a soprano before becoming a heralded mezzo, is perfectly vocalized and characterized, and Giuseppe Valdengo’s Ford is particularly vivid. His voice is dry, but he uses that quality to fit the character. Cloe Elmo, whom I think of as Azucena, turns in a witty, devious Mistress Quickly. Giuseppe di Stefano sings with meltingly beautiful tone as Fenton. Only Licia Albanese seems slightly out of place, with a Nannetta that is just a touch too forceful, too close to verismo.
FALSTAFF is an opera that depends on a tight musical and dramatic ensemble in order to work, and that is what it gets in this performance. Perhaps the notoriously tyrannical Reiner is responsible, but whatever the reason, the success of this performance lies in the fact that the singers genuinely interact with one another and with the orchestra. That is not something we can always take for granted in live performances.
If you already own the Guild or Sony versions of this 1949 broadcast, I’m not sure the sonic difference is significant enough to warrant replacement. But if you don’t know the performance, this release is urgently recommended. The sound is still constricted enough that cannot be considered as one’s only FALSTAFF, but a serious opera collection should have it.”
- Henry Fogel, FAN FARE
"The FALSTAFF revival was by far the more distinguished production…in the hands of Fritz Reiner, who had made a notable debut at the Metropolitan less than a fortnight earlier. Leonard Warren undertook the title role, singing it in Italian for the first time [in Italian]. Regina Resnik and Martha Lipton were Mistress Ford and Mistress Page; Cloe Elmo was Dame Quickly; Licia Albanese and Giuseppe Di Stefano, Nannetta and Fenton; Giuseppe Valdengo, Ford; Alessio de Paolis and Lorenzo Alvary, Bardolph and Pistol; Leslie Chabay, Dr. Caius; and the veteran Ludwig Burgstaller, the Innkeeper. Despite the admirable contributions of most of the singers, it was Mr. Reiner's conducting, above all else, that made this FALSTAFF one of the Metropolitan's finest attainments in many seasons. The orchestral score, by all odds one of the most difficult in the entire repertory to play, was articulated with scrupulous precision and clarity. The wind instruments chattered and burbled gleefully; the strings sang their snatches of lyric melody with transparent tone and attractive sentiment; the trumpets accomplished their trills at the end of the first scene with magnificent bravado; and in the last act the. players achieved dainty pianissimos such as have never been heard from the pit of the Metropolitan in the experience of this listener. In short, all the music was there, completely polished and refined, yet completely lively and spontaneous, and Mr., Reiner maintained a prescient control of its shifting pace that made everything easy for the players and singers and correct for the musical and dramatic nuances. Memorable as the conductor's command of the Strauss score [SALOME] had proved to be a few days earlier, his transfiguration of the FALSTAFF music demonstrated almost more strikingly how much we miss when we do not hear great operatic music conducted by a great craftsman….
Mr. Warren's… singing…was wonderful, from start to finish. His voice was controlled with supreme skill at all times, and he sang with such an abundance of characterization that he supplied vocally many of the subtleties that were absent from his visual interpretation. The beauty of his tone, whether in a hearty full voice or a luminous pianissimo, was extraordinary. He has never sung better at the Metropolitan, nor have many other baritones.
The quartet of ladies was expert, down to the last dotted ‘i’ and crossed ‘t’. Miss Resnik at last found an ideal assignment as Mistress Ford. She far surpassed anything she has done before at the Metropolitan, maintaining a delightfully poised tone when the vocal line moved high, and tossing off the scale passages and flourishes with glittering brilliance. The music of Dame Quickly lay perfectly in Miss Elmo's almost baritonal lower register, and she enacted her whole, part with superb vehemence and high spirits. Martha Lipton, allotted less responsibility in the way of solo passages, was a comely and musically dependable Mistress Page. Miss Albanese, however, was miscast as Nannetta, despite her expert contribution to the ensembles. Singing full voice virtually all the time, she eradicated the wistfulness of Nannetta's exquisite, tiny threads of melody and in the forest scene she dispelled the mystery of the midsummer night by continuing to sing loudly in her invocation of the nymphs and elves, flouting Verdi's repeated markings of dolce, dolcissimo, and morendo.
Mr. Valdengo made a good vocal effect with Ford's monologue…Mr. Di Stefano made a tentative approach to the role of Fenton, which was new to him; not withstanding many agreeable passages, especially in the last act in ‘Dal labbro il canto’, his singing was largely deficient in both style and communicativeness-though ultimately the music should be ideally suited to his beautiful light voice. Mr. Chabay's portrait of Dr. Caius was a minor masterpiece.”
- Cecil Smith, MUSICAL AMERICA
“Undoubtedly the truly distinctive entry in this anthology is the FALSTAFF led by Fritz Reiner in 1949. In his only Verdi assignment at the Met, Reiner reaped great critical praise for the unusual verve and precision of his conducting. Regina Resnik, the Alice Ford, later recalled the intense rehearsals Reiner demanded, the drilling of ensembles with the cast just before each performance and during intermissions. Leonard Warren, who sang the fat knight with the company only three times, masters Falstaff with a finesse seldom heard in this role. The cast boasts a firm, explosive Giuseppe Valdengo as Ford and the luxury of Giuseppe Di Stefano as Fenton.
Reiner produced a rollercoaster sensation with the complex, rapid ensembles, leaving no loose ends apart from some trouble in the brasses in Act II. And yet, the emphasis on lockstep precision and speed may have left little room - or too little rehearsal time - for touches of legato and rubato (to cite two foreign terms) that could soften and vary the forward impetus. Even Toscanini's treatment of the score feels pliant by comparison.”
- David J. Baker, OPERA NEWS, June, 2014