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TV REVIEWS : Telecast of Met's 'Falstaff' Falls Short

September 13, 1993|CHRIS PASLES

As a record of a particular occasion, the "Metropolitan Opera Presents" telecast of "Falstaff," taped last season and airing tonight at 8 p.m. on KCET-TV Channel 28, KVCR-TV Channel 24 and KPBS-TV Channel 15, has some value. But it doesn't do more than adequate justice to the beauties and depths of Verdi's ultimate opera.

Inheriting Franco Zeffirelli's 1964 production, director Paul Mills emphasizes the general, the sometimes exaggerated and even crass, thereby diminishing warmth and sympathy for the title character and too often telegraphing jokes to the audience. Forget sparkling comedy and any sense of kaleidoscopic character.

Vocally, several of the principals are operating past their peak. In the title role, Paul Plishka offers strong, monochromatic and gruff singing and acting, lacking subtlety, lyricism and the opportunities for endearment. Mirella Freni (as Alice) and Marilyn Horne (as Mistress Quickly) know how to rely on sophisticated resources developed over long, distinguished careers, but the bloom is distressingly off both voices.

But then many of the singers seem to be pushing. Bruno Pola acts Ford feverishly, and his voice grows hoarse under pressure. Frank Lopardo's Fenton similarly loses vocal suavity, especially in his soliloquy in Windsor Forest.

Barbara Bonney redeems as a silvery Nannetta, managing to maintain vocal poise and beauty even when she must start the Fairy Queen's song sitting side-saddle on a restive horse. (Moments later, a sheep dog's eyeing a small haystack as a potential fire-hydrant catches--and distracts--the audience's attention. Bad directorial decisions.)

Conductor James Levine emerges as the hero, propelling the action with vigor and, at times, explosive decisiveness, though tending to overlook lyric possibilities. The love interludes become mere eddies in a maelstrom.

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