Several operas based on Falstaff have been recorded (Verdi, of course, Nicolai, Salieri, Holst, Vaughan-Williams, and Gordon Getti based on Falstaff in the Henry IV plays). This one was new to me and I took a chance, buying it in preparation for giving a two-day Symposium of Shakespeare in Opera. Known primarily these days for his sentimental romance The Bohemian Girl, Balfe lavished a wealth of melody and high spirits on this version of Merry Wives of Windsor. The score has a Donizetti feel about it and the first-rate cast sails through it with fine voices working under a very good conductor (Marco Zambelli). The live concert performance, beautifully recorded, is billed as the first complete performance since 1838 and is a complete delight.
Great to have a recording of this "lost" opera. Plenty of energy in this performance . Everyone sounds committed. Much better than the lackluster Satanella. I particularly liked the female singers. The lower men's voices are a little better than OK. The tenor does not have a very attractive voice. They must have produced a vocal score but I can't find it.
Most, who have any knowledge at all of Balfe, associate the composer with a single work---The Bohemian Girl---which has luscious choruses, impressive orchestration, and several really memorable melodies. Balfe's Falstaff is a totally different work in that it contains a wealth of truly grand operatic arias and ensembles, some of which are absolutely dazzling--largely in the style of late-Donizetti. If you like the best of Donizetti, you WILL really like this CD-set. There are at least two protracted arias for coloratura soprano that drop the jaw in pure astonishment. They pose a challenge for the best voices in that realm. Two final thoughts, beyond the fact the singers in this set do splendidly: Few would ever guess this is a Balfe opera and not some unknown work by a mature Bellini or Donizetti or early Verdi...AND the overture is a genuine sparkler that deserves to be played by the best of orchestras and widely heard. This release is a musical treasure.
What a delightful surprise this opera turned out to be. Boito clearly knew the scenario of the libretto because his for Verdi is identical. Balfe of course wrote in the prevailing bel canto style of his own time. However there's no confusing him with anyone else. His melodies have their own shape and considerable beauty, and there is the usual musical form of cavatina/cabaletta for the numbers. They are very well performed by all in the cast of this performance. The album is a must for all lovers of belcanto opera.