Critic Alan Blyth writes in his liner notes:
"The La Scala performance of 1952 is enlivened by De Sabata¹s superb conducting, at once precise, energetic, imbued with the rightful comedy and altogether exhilarating. The veteran baritone seems inspired by his conductor to present an even more imaginative and detailed portrayal than ever before, one quite unstaled by the thousand or so performances he had already given. This is a matter of subtler emphases and vocal chuckles that are so vivid as almost to bring the character before one at home. A critic who saw and heard him at the time wrote that he had to resort to some technical tricks to cover up a voice that was no longer in its prime, but added: "To offset that, his colouring of words was unique as were his gestures, how he moved, his command of the stage".
The 1941 Rome performance, or as much of it as survives, stems from the collection of the German Radio Archive in Frankfurt, and appears for the first time. It seems to be a studio performance as there is no evidence of any audience participation or stage movement. The sound is remarkable for its day. The recording houses an interpretation from Tullio Serafin markedly different from De Sabata¹s. Serafin¹s view of the work seems to be more autumnal, more ruminative than that of his Italian near-contemporary. No less well prepared or well played, it allows us to hear even more of the magic of the orchestration.
The most important aspect of the wartime performance is the presence of Tito Gobbi as Ford. Later he was, of course, a famous Falstaff, but no other souvenir exists of him as Ford. At the time of this performance he was a valued member of the Rome ensemble, having made his debut at the Rome Opera in the 1939-40 season. His voice already has its peculiarly distinctive timbre and he is already a master at projecting character through nourishing the text. His and Stabile¹s account of their Act 2 encounter, full of verbal wit, is a classic of ensemble playing, the one singer encouraging the other to greater heights of intimate colloquy. So, by and large, this is an important addition to the discography of the opera, one to be savoured by the many lovers of the enchanting piece.
Stabile is the only singer common to both versions. More than ten years earlier he is in more rounded voice and seems able to summon up all his histrionic powers without the help of stage action. Thanks to a better quality of sound, one can hear still more of the skills he deploys in creating a rounded portrait of Falstaff.
Stabile sang the role no fewer than 1200 times. He gave it during his first season at Covent Garden in 1926, the year he made recordings of excerpts for Columbia. His first recording of anything from the role was a few months after his 1921 debut in the part‹the Honour monologue and scene the with Alice in Act 2. During his return to London in the late 1940s, he recorded Falstaff ¹s two monologues with enormous relish for British Columbia. He also made some extracts from the work for Telefunken in 1942, but no commercial recording was ever made of his complete reading, which is what makes the live performances now preserved on CD so important.
His performance at La Scala in 1952 marked the thirtieth anniversary of his first assumption of the role in the house on 26 December 1921, the opening of La Scala after the first world war. when he benefited ftom the scrupulous coaching of Toscanini and of Giuseppe De Luca, his great predecessor in the part. Interestingly enough, one of Stabile¹s most accomplished successors in the part, Giuseppe Valdengo, also learnt the role in meticulous detail from Toscanini before the maestro¹s famous concert performance and recording of the work in 1950.
CD-1104 (4) VERDI: FALSTAFF – 2 HISTORIC PERFORMANCES: Complete performance from La Scala, Milan given 26 May 1952, conducted by Victor de Sabata; with Mariano Stabile as Falstaff, Paolo Silveri as Ford, Cesare Valletti as Fenton, Mariano Caruso as Cajus, Giuseppe Nessi as Bardolfo, Italo Taio as Pistole, Renata Tebaldi as Alice, Cloë Elmo as Quickly and Anna Maria Canali as Meg; and the previously unissued incomplete recording for RRG (German Radio) with members of Rome Opera, recorded 28 April 1941, conducted by Tullio Serafin*; with Mariano Stabile as Falstaff, Tito Gobbi as Ford, Ferruccio Tagliavini as Fenton, Adelia Zagenara as Cajus, Cesare Masini-Sperti as Bardolfo/Pistole, Franca Somigli as Alice, Augusta Oltrabella as Nanetta, Cloë Elmo as Quickly and Vittorico Palambini as Meg. Plus bonus tracks from previously unreleased live performances of Otello and Aida conducted by de Sabata (1938).
* Items marked *: From the archives of Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv. These portions of the set are a co-production with Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv. (AAD). Total Time: 4:10. UPC # 0-17685-11042-9.