Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Die Walküre, Opera North

A day is now a very long time indeed in politics; would that it were otherwise. It certainly is in the Ring, as we move forward a generation to Die Walküre.

Early Gluck arias at the Wigmore Hall

If composers had to be categorised as either conservatives or radicals, Christoph Willibald Gluck would undoubtedly be in the revolutionary camp, lauded for banishing display, artifice and incoherence from opera and restoring simplicity and dramatic naturalness in his ‘reform’ operas.

Das Rheingold, Opera North

Das Rheingold is, of course, the reddest in tooth and claw of all Wagner’s dramas - which is saying something.

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

22 Jul 2012

Verdi Falstaff Opera Holland Park

“It is as sunny as the composer’s garden at Busetto, clear as crystal in construction, tender and explosive by turns, humorous and witty without a touch of extravagance or a note of vulgarity.” So wrote Charles Stanford on the occasion of the first performance of Verdi’s final opera, in 1893.

Giuseppe Verdi : Falstaff

Sir John Falstaff: Olafur Sigurdarson, Ford:George von Bergen, Alice Ford: Linda Richardson, Meg Page: Carolyn Dobbin, Mistress Quickly: Carole Wilson, Nannetta: Rhona McKail, Fenton:Benjamin Hulett, Dr Caius:Christopher Turner, Bardolfo: Brian Galliford, Pistola: Simon Wilding. Opera Holland Park Chorus, City of London Sinfonia, Conductor :Peter Robinson, Director: Annilese Miskimmon, Designer: Nicky Shaw, Lighting Designer:Mark Jonathan.

20 July 2012, Opera Holland Park, London.

 

Director Annilese Miskimmon certainly aimed for unclouded comedy and ceaseless zest in an uproarious production of Falstaff at Opera Holland Park, which nevertheless did not always avoid hyperbole or kitsch.

During a pacy Prelude, designer Nicky Shaw’s simple wooden huts spun deftly to reveal a mock-Tudor interior: not a bawdy tavern but a 1920s care home for the war-wounded. Invalids in striped pyjamas staggered about on crutches and were whizzed in wheelchairs by efficient nurses, while a medal-bestrewn Sir John held court centre-stage, throwing his weight around - quite literally - and verbally abusing the long-suffering Pistol and Bardolf (Simon Wilding and Brian Galliford respectively).

I may be being overly fastidious, but given the significant casualties resulting from recent overseas conflicts, I for one didn’t find hobbling amputees and wheelchair capers particularly amusing; and, in any case, once is enough - a gag repeated is a gag diluted. However, having introduced this particular ‘angle’, director Annilese Miskimmon somewhat inexplicably did not choose to pursue it further. By Scene 2 the convalescence period was over and we were transported to a 1950s village fete, all jubilee bunting, jelly mounds and Victoria sponges. It was more Albert Herring than Elizabethan escapade: church spire, cricket whites, boy scouts, surplices, plodding policeman … just about every stereotype was represented. Even Ford found himself cast as the village rector with his own clerical chorus.

The hurly-burly of Act 2 Scene 2 - when a preening, cock-sure Falstaff arrives for his assignation with Alice - took place in a floral bedroom typical of a 1950s farce, with the requisite hiding nooks, fresh-faced lovers, duplicitous housewives, indignant husbands and a shameless old lecher. The action was lightning quick, with some delightfully detailed direction: from Falstaff’s ungainly arrival, head-first via the window, the busy exits and entrances were neatly handled.

But then, in Act 3, as the plot hatched by the women unfolds, we were whisked off again, now to the glades of Windsor Forest. Mark Jonathan’s atmospheric lighting cast an eerie translucent glow, as cricket whites were swapped for faery fineries. It was almost back to Britten-land again, as the fantasy of sham spirits evoked the world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, before we returned to a world of maypoles and flags - just about everyone seemed to get tied up in knots of red, white and blue at some point - for the final scene, which, after the preceding comic exuberances seemed rather static. During the final fugue the chorus, bundled in bunting by Falstaff, seemed unsure of what they should be doing and, occasionally, singing, and the zip rather went out of things.

Despite the lack of clarity and consistency in Miskimmon’s direction, there was much to admire and many moments of comic hilarity. She was aided by a uniformly strong cast, led by Olafur Sigurdarson - an OHP veteran, who having previously taken the title roles in Rigoletto and Macbeth now turned his hand from tragedy to buffo. Sigurdarson was the physical and vocal epicentre of this performance; his full-blooded bellow suggested the immensity of Falstaff’s pomposity and self-importance, and also the warm generosity underlying the bluff blustering. Although he lost the pitch at times, particularly in the opening scene, this was a fully committed, rumbustious performance; vocally and physical agile, his exploits included hanging like a sail from the four-poster, and even a carefree cartwheel of glee of some accomplishment!

Such exuberance, and Sigurdarson’s strong musical presence, enlivened the whole production, often to very amusing effect. But, one can have too much of a good thing. Miskimmon did not acknowledge the more serious undercurrents of the opera, and the unalleviated merriment, mayhem and madness became a little wearing. For, in forging his libretto Boito assimilated material from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and from Henry IV: his Falstaff is not simply the coarse clown of the former, but retains some of the qualities of the Falstaff of the history play. Here there was little sense of Falstaff’s ‘stateliness’, his sense of his own social superiority and entitlement - he is a ‘Sir’ after all - and thus no recognition of his tragic decline.

Still, there were some fine musical performances, not least from Carole Wilson, a knowing Mistress Quickly, whose rich, rounded voice conveyed the pragmatist’s years of wisdom and experience (but, why was she dressed as a nun during conversations with Falstaff?).

Linda Richardson was a lively Alice, proving herself a strong character actress. At times, a delightfully suggestive blossoming of the voice made it clear that this Mrs Ford would not be averse to an amorous adventure or two. Carolyn Dobbin was similarly focused and strong as Meg. Although the opening scenes were a little unsettled, perhaps not to be unexpected on an opening night, by the unaccompanied quartet of Act 1 Scene 2 the complicated ensemble writing was crystal clear.

As Ford, George van Bergen, despite projecting a firm, focused musical line, struggled to stamp his presence on the role; his famous monologue to Jealousy was accurate but lacked menace, his voice insufficiently fierce. Ford’s duet with Falstaff in Act 2 Scene 1 - some of the finest music of the opera - was well sung, but the final simultaneous exit of the two men through the door again lacked the necessary tension.

Benjamin Hulett, looking like an overgrown schoolboy in his knee-length shorts and striped cap, was a superb Fenton. He has just the right ardent ‘ping’ to suggest over-enthusiastic youthful passion, and his yearning solo and subsequent duet with Rhona McKail (Nanetta) were among the highlights of the evening; the pathos of old man in his final years writing such tender, innocent music is truly affecting. As the evening progressed McKail overcame an initial tendency to sing sharp, and revealed a beautifully pure and touching tone.

Peter Robinson, conducting the City of London Sinfonia, brought out the Beethovian qualities of the score, particularly its tapestry of motifs. Textures were crisp and clear, from the woodwind trills during Sir John’s monologue on Honour to the staccato brass in the old rogue’s soliloquy of self-satisfaction, “Va vecchio John”, which built to an exultant conclusion. Verdian ‘labels’ such as Mistress Quickly’s curtsey were effectively shaped; there was some joyful woodwind playing in Act 1 Scene 2, accompanying the mischievous mirth of the Merry Wives and some fleet string spiccatos at start of bedroom scene. The small forces often garnered a surprisingly full tone, but while precise and attentive to detail, the rather restrained overall approach was a little at odds with the unruly larks onstage.

Whatever my misgivings, the audience were clearly entertained and highly appreciative, giving Sigurdarson in particular a roaring ovation. But, despite the fun and frolics - and the strong individual performances - the parts did not really add up to a coherent, or sufficiently nuanced, whole. This production is certainly a jolly jape but does not really present the insights into human nature that Verdi, and Shakespeare, offer: that all men and women, regardless of status or wisdom, may be foolish even ridiculous, but they are still deserving of both love and pity.

Claire Seymour


Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):