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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.



Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff adapted by Tony Britten
17 Aug 2009

Verdi: Falstaff

Those opera lovers prone to rage at the perceived dominance of the director in their beloved art form today may collapse in apoplexy at this first release from the company called SignumVision.

Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff adapted by Tony Britten

John Falstaff (Ian Jervis); Alice Ford (Jan Hartley); Francis Ford QC (Julian Forsyth); Doctor Cajus (Simon Butteriss); Bardolph: (Daniel Gillingwater); Pistol (Simon Masterton Smith); Mrs Quickly (Marilyn Cutts); Meg Page (Rosamund Shelley); Nanetta Ford (Katie Lovell); Fenton (Andy Morton).

Signum Vision SIGDVD001 [DVD]

$23.49  Click to buy

For this is, according to the booklet, “Falstaff in a new version by Tony Britten,” with the director’s name in huge font and below, barely in letter-size a third as big, “based on the opera by Verdi and Boito.” But Verdi and Boito might not object, as they could fairly claim any success this film version has and shrug off its less worthy aspects. After all, that same Tony Britten not only rewrote the libretto, but reorchestrated the score for a small ensemble, as well as serving, of course, as director.

Again, this is a filmed version, with the singers moving their lips to the pre-recorded soundtrack. Britten has set the action in a suburban (or borderline rural) golf club. Sir John has planted himself at the tiny club bar, with his two “henchmen” Bardolf and Pistol at a table nearby. Fenton is the golf pro, and the housewives are dedicated to the sport. Britten’s skill with the camera and his actors makes the film initially quite entertaining. Characters are well-delineated, and the seedy ambiance of this far-lying, older sport resort suits the action well enough. Even as a librettist, while no Boito, Britten has a fine ear for matching English inflection to Verdi’s rhythm’s, and some of the updating is fairly witty (the merry wives refer to themselves as “desperate housewives”). By the time of Sir John’s first date with the ladies, however, a sort of adolescent, sniggering approach to sexuality, familiar to US viewers through, say, “The Benny Hill Show,” curdles the cream, as it were. Sir John, instead of being dumped in the river, gets dumped in a trash dump. He reappears with a soiled baby diaper stuck to his back, and then pulls the corpse of a furry varmint from his pants. Well, many people found “The Benny Hill Show” uproarious, so…to each his own soiled baby diaper.

Purists will undoubtedly object, but Britten’ reorchestration captures much of the inventive charm of Verdi’s original. A keyboard lays down the basic harmonic fabric, and a small group of chirpy winds supplies the light-hearted thrust of Verdi’s score. Only in the final credits is there a credit for music direction (Jonathan Gill). The singers, whom the director admits were chosen more for their acting ability than vocal prowess, range from decent (Ian Jervis’s Sir John, Jan Hartley’s Alice Ford) or acceptable (Julian Forsyth’s Ford, Andy Morton’s Fenton) to strained (Katie Lovell’s Nanetta, especially at her top) and hooty (Marilyn Cutt’s Miss Quickly). They all get the words across efficiently, which is good, since there are no subtitles in any language offered by the disc. Words do tend tend to blur in ensemble numbers, unsurprisingly.

The booklet has no information on the score or the musicians whatsoever, although it has room for the director to expound on both the opera and his vision of it. A tiresome “making of” documentary adds little to interest to the set.

So, this Falstaff is well-filmed, amusingly acted, and adequately sung for the most part. If Britten hadn’t resorted to the lowbrow humor, his “new version” of Verdi and Boito’s masterwork could have made itself an enjoyable “addendum.” But as said above, to those who have to hold their sides when “Are You Being Served?” comes on the telly, no such objection will interfere with the tittering.

Chris Mullins

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