Many thanks to our friend Bob – Georgia on my mind 😀
There have been countless recordings of Verdi’s last opera. Many excellent. For example, von Karajan (with Tito Gobbi), Solti (with Geraint Evans), Bernstein (with Fischer-Dieskau), Giulini (with Renato Bruson), and more recently Davis (with Michele Pertusi). And even an English version, Daniel (with Andrew Shore). And they all have their unique qualities.
However, the benchmark remains Toscanini’s recording in 1950 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra on the RCA label. The cast may not be perfect, although Valdengo offers a first-rate interpretation. He also sang Iago in Toscanini’s 1947 NBC broadcast of Verdi’s Otello. Herva Nelli and Nan Merriman , also in that classic recording, reappear here. All the members of the cast perform admirably, and the ensembles, a crucial ingredient in this opera, are most effective. Cloe Elmo, as Mistress Quickly, is especially notable.
Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Performer: Giuseppe Valdengo, Antonio Madasi, Frank Guarrera, Gabor Carelli, John Carmen Rossi, Norman Scott
Orchestra: NBC Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Arturo Toscanini
Number of discs: 3
DR-Analysis: DR 15
Size: 1.22 GB
The relationship between Giuseppe Verdi and Arturo Toscanini is well known and documented. It was in Rio de Janeiro on June 30, 1886 that a 19-year old Toscanini was pressed into service to make his last-second conducting debut. The opera was Verdi’s Aida. The following year, Toscanini was a member of the cello section of the La Scala Orchestra for the premiere of Verdi’s penultimate opera Otello. During rehearsals, Verdi came down to the orchestra pit and chided Toscanini for not playing loudly enough during the introduction to the love duet that concludes the first act. That encounter, quite understandably, made a profound impression on the young Toscanini.
But the music of Otello made an even greater impression. After the triumphant February 5, 1887 premiere, Toscanini ran home, woke up his mother in the middle of the night and exclaimed, “Mama, Verdi is a genius! Down on your knees to Verdi, down on your knees to Verdi!” One presumes Mama Toscanini complied. In subsequent years, Toscanini had the opportunity to meet with Verdi and discuss the interpretation of his music. When Verdi died in 1901, at the age of 88, it was Toscanini, now Music Director of La Scala, who led a tribute to Italy’s most beloved and revered composer.
None of this is meant to suggest that a Toscanini recording of Verdi represents the music precisely the way the composer intended. But there is no question that these recordings do provide an invaluable conduit from composer to interpreter to our ears. As a result, each Toscanini recording of Verdi commands repeated listening and study. That is certainly the case with this 1950 performance of Verdi’s last opera Falstaff, recorded at Studio 8-H on two consecutive broadcasts of April 1 and 8. There is an earlier Toscanini recording of Falstaff, preserved from a 1936 Salzburg broadcast. It is a magnificent rendition, but the sound of all releases to date is so wretched that I can recommend it only to the most seasoned veterans of historic recordings.
No such apologies need be made for the 1950 broadcast, one of the finest in the series of operas Toscanini broadcast with his NBC Symphony Orchestra. According to the liner notes of the superb Toscanini biographer Harvey Sachs, piano rehearsals for the cast averaged six hours a day for a period of six weeks. That preparation is certainly evident in a performance that crackles with fire, precision, and nuance from the boisterous opening measures to the concluding fugue. Perhaps this Falstaff does not have quite the flexibility of the 1936 Salzburg performance. But you have to make your way through a daunting sonic haze to arrive at that determination.
Among available commercial recordings, Toscanini’s 1950 broadcast remains the finest conducted Falstaff. The title role in the 1950 broadcast is sung by Italian baritone Giuseppe Valdengo, whose rather light, lyric voice was not a “natural” for the rotund Sir John. However, Valdengo was always a resourceful performer, with superb diction and a keen sense of theatricality.
Those attributes, coupled with an extended period of preparation with Toscanini (beginning seven months before the broadcast) produced a superb performance. In fact, I would rank Valdengo’s Falstaff, along with those of Geraint Evans (London), Giuseppe Taddei (in an early Cetra recording), and Tito Gobbi (EMI), as the finest on disc. The rest of the cast may not be quite as impressive as Valdengo, but they are more than adequate to the task. Particularly notable are the lively contributions of Herva Nelli as Alice Ford, Frank Guarrera as her husband, Nan Merriman as Meg Page, and Cloe Elmo as Mistress Quickly.
Analyzed folder: /96k(Mono) Verdi – Falstaff – Toscanini
DR Peak RMS Filename
DR14 -0.64 dB -21.48 dB sideA.aif
DR14 -1.25 dB -21.27 dB sideB.aif
DR16 -1.06 dB -22.62 dB sideC.aif
DR16 -0.42 dB -22.23 dB sideD.aif
DR16 -0.31 dB -23.09 dB sideE.aif
DR15 -0.32 dB -21.29 dB sideF.aif
Number of files: 6
Official DR value: DR15
- RCM: Okki Nokki (L’art du son, Clearaudio’s Diamond Cleaner)
- TT: Vintage (1982) Yamaha PX-3
Cartridge: Sumiko Black Bird
- Cartridge: ZYX 50R Bloom
- Phono amp: Audio Research SP15 own tube phono section
- ADC/DAC: RME Fireface UC
- Pre Amp: Audio Research SP15
- Finals: Opera Consonance 9.9 Mono (Tube)
- Speakers: Dali Helikon 400
- Connections: MIT Terminator, Audioquest Emerald, Audioquest Quartz
- Software: iZotope RX 4 Advanced, Adobe Audition CS 5.5, Twisted Wave 1.9
- Super light de-clicking with iZotope, significant clicks manually removing, no de-noising
- DR-Analisys before converting to Flac
- Converting Wave -> Flac: Twisted Wave 1.9
- Artwork: Sony Alpha 350, Epson Perfection V750 Pro, Photoshop CS 5.5
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