At the Lerici Music Festival, Sir Bryn Terfel confirms he is the Falstaff of today

ItalyItaly Lerici Music Festival’s Sir John and Sir Bryn – Verdi, Falstaff (excerpts, concert performance): Sir Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone) and soloists, Orchestra della Magna Grecia / Gianluca Marcianò (conductor). Teatro all’Aperto della Rotonda Vassallo, 6.8.2022 (CC)

Benjamin Cho, Sir Bryn Terfel, Gianluca Marcianò and Orchestra della Magna Grecia

In memory of Katya Tsukanova

Sir John Falstaff – Sir Bryn Terfel
Nannetta – Federica Zanello
Bardolph – Andrea Galli
Pistol – Alberto Comes
Dr Caius – Orlando Polidoro
Ford – Benjamin Cho
Alice Ford – Martina Gresia
Meg Page – Margherita Rotondi
Mistress Quickly – Camilla Antonini
Fenton – Manuel Amati

Excerpts: Act 1, Scene1; Act 2, Scene 1; Act 3, Scene 1; Act 3, Scene 2 until the end of Nannetta’s aria; Fuga, ‘Tutto nel mondo è burla’

There is no doubting Sir Bryn Terfel is the Falstaff of today, confirmed by both his recent Covent Garden performances and of course by his DG recording with Claudio Abbado. He sits firmly in the lineage of Tito Gobbi (Karajan’s famed, vital, recording with the Philharmonia (rightly one of EMI’s ‘Great Recordings of the Century’) as one of the great Falstaffs. His 2018 Covent Garden performance (click here) revealed just how at home he is in this role, and his command of it was never in doubt during this excerpts performance highlighting his presence as Artist-in-Residence of the Lerici Music Festival. Terfel has, after all, been singing the title role since 1999.The strength of his voice, his stage presence and his ease of delivery contributed to the perfect assumption of the role.

This was a co-production between the Lerici Festival and the Instituzione Concertistica Orchestrale Magna Grecia, with a strong cast headed by Federica Zanello’s Nannetta. The orchestra was a major contributor, too, though – the Festival’s founder-director, Gianluca Marcianò ensured razor-sharp reactions from his young orchestra in a score that, of all Verdi’s operas, requires that – not least in the hectic opening bars. The rapport between Marcianò and Terfel was a natural one – they had performed the complete opera together at Grange Park Opera last year in Stephen Medcalf’s production.

The singers were clearly carefully aligned to their roles. It falls to Dr Caius to open the vocal events, as he calls to Sir John (Falstaff), and tenor Orlando Polidoro gave his all without doubt. With tenor Andrea Galli and bass Alberto Comes as Bardolph and Pistol, exchanges were nicely on the ball, although the acoustic challenges of the outdoor rotunda were sometimes evident.

Act 2, Scene 1 allows for more lyric expansion, something Marcianò brought to the forefront. Here it was baritone Benjamin Cho’s Ford that came to the fore, his dialogues with Terfel beautifully realised – Cho’s stage presence is also noteworthy. He can hold dramatic attention seemingly easily. It was Martina Gresia’s Alice Ford who also shone in the first scene of the third act (as well as a goodly dollop of Summer lightning which added a nice bit of extraneous drama of its own). One can wonder at how Terfel keeps his interpretation fresh every time: his ‘Va, vecchio John, va, va per la tua via’ was stunning finding him able to drop his voice to the merest sung whisper. Camilla Antonini was a full-voiced Mrs Quickly, rendering the single word ‘Reverenza’ instantly memorable, but also bringing eloquence to her ‘Giunta all’Albergo’.

The third and final act is surely Verdi at his very greatest. We heard substantial amounts – all of the first scene and the second until a radiant performance from the Zanello’s Nannetta of ‘Sul fil d’un soffio etesio’. The orchestra seemed to evoke the world of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream seen and heard through the prism of a Ligurian summer evening. Zanello is a singer who deserves more opportunities. Born locally – She is locally – Solzano, La Spezia, 15 minutes in the car according to Google – and so this was perfect casting for her: of an excellent cast, she revealed herself as the strongest.

This was a fascinating display of talent, with Manuel Amati’s Fenton and Margherita Rotondi’s Meg completing the line-up. And so, to the inevitable finale – the stretch of music that teaches us that fugues need not sound academic, ‘Tutto nel mondo è burla,’ here a spectacular explosion of counterpoint, lines beautifully pointed from all. It was the perfect end, bringing everyone together. While Sir Bryn might have inevitably once more captivated our hearts and delivered an absolute masterclass in great Verdi singing, it was this finale that reminded us of the ensemble effort. By that time, the energy was at its height, the ensuing ovation richly deserved by all.

Colin Clarke

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