Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Carmen Giannattasio as Alice Ford and Roberto Frontali as Falstaff. [Photo by Robert Millard]
02 Dec 2013

Fat Knight in Los Angeles

In its ongoing celebration of Verdi’s centennial year, the Los Angeles Opera offered a new production of Falstaff, the composer’s last and most brilliant opera — brilliant in every scintillating, sparkling sense of the word.

Fat Knight in Los Angeles

A review by Estelle Gilson

Above: Carmen Giannattasio as Alice Ford and Roberto Frontali as Falstaff

Photos by Robert Millard

 

Verdi, who composed more than twenty operatic tragedies and was a life long student of Shakespeare’s plays (witness his powerful Macbeth and heart wrenching Otello) had previously written only one comedy, Il Giorno di Regno (King for a Day). He wrote it when he was 27, at the very outset of his career, but sadly, immediately after the death of his young wife and infant children, and the work failed. Fifty years passed before he undertook this second comedy. He was 80 when Falstaff opened on February 9th 1893 at La Scala in Milan.

Shakespeare’s fictional Sir John Falstaff, a man bloated in body and spirit, and now immortal, is one of literature’s most renowned comic inventions. He appears in three of Shakespeare’s plays — first, in the histories; Henry IV, part 1 and Henry IV part 2, and later, in the comic Merry Wives of Windsor, which is devoted to his exploits alone. In the Henry plays Falstaff is deceitful, funny, and very smart. As the central character of The Merry Wives of Windsor, he is deceitful, absurd, and the butt of ridicule. The eminent 18th century scholar, Samuel Johnson found “nothing in [Falstaff] that can be esteemed.”. The eminent modern scholar Harold Bloom, considers the early Falstaff one of Shakespeare’s most intelligent characters.

FLS5040.gifLeft to right: Ronnita Nicole Miller as Mistress Quickly, Erica Brookhyser as Meg Page; Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Nannetta; Carmen Giannattasio as Alice Ford.

Composers Antonio Salieri, Michael Balfe and Otto Nicolai, based operatic works on the comically absurd Falstaff of the Merry Wives . British composers, Sir Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, and Vaughan Williams emphasized the historical British past in their telling of the fat knight’s adventures. Williams’ score contains British folks songs including “Greensleeves.” Verdi and Boito created a perfectly blended masterpiece — a comic opera set in oak timbered England, that sounds and plays like a manic French farce.

The story: Falstaff sets out to woo two wealthy women — his motives are simple: lust and financial gain. Sad for him, it turns out the women know each other and set out to trick him. They set a trap and succeed in making a fool of him. In fact, they succeed more than once — which should tell you something about Falstaff’s personality. However, there is a happy ending, and the would-be seducer is invited to a feast with the women and their families, including the husband he intended to cuckold.

Falstaff requires an extraordinary cast. Verdi had written a new and different kind of opera, an opera whose music is a perpetual motion of merry deceits. In planning its premiere he turned down singers, even renowned singers, “who express feeling and action by falling asleep on the notes.” This new opera had to be performed by artists who "articulate" and “sing with brio.”

Los Angeles Opera gets high marks for presenting an excellent cast. Baritone Roberto Frontali, properly plumped up as Falstaff, sang with attention to the lyric, as well as humorous aspects of the Falstaff’s music, and with clear articulation. Baritone Marco Caria, who was debuting with the company as the Ford, delivered a passionate rendition of the humorous monologue on women. Robert Brubaker was properly humorous in the thankless tenor role of Dr Caius. Argentine tenor, Juan Francisco Gatell, was a handsome, lithe, but light voiced Fenton in his company debut. Bardolph (Rodell Rosel) and Pistol (Valentin Anikin) were amusingly deceitful rogues.

FLS5059.gifLeft to right: Juan Francisco Gatell as Fenton, Rodell Rosel as Bardolph, Marco Caria as Ford, Valentin Anikin as Pistol and Robert Brubaker as Dr. Caius

Soprano Carmen Giannattasio and mezzo-soprano Erica Brookhyser, as Alice and Meg respectively, were charming schemers. Ekaterina Sadovnikova, a pert soprano, made the snatches of Nannetta’s love music, and her “Sul fil d’un soffio etesio” gleam. Ronnita Nicole Miller was properly conspiratorial and panderous as Mistress Quickly. However her mezzo soprano voice lacked the darkness “to function” as Verdi intended, “as the double bass in the women’s quartets”. And speaking of quartets, the extremely difficult ensemble pieces in this opera — the male and female octet and the last glorious fugue, incorporating the entire cast and chorus, were sharp, crisp and joyous.

For this production the opera company engaged British director, Lee Blakely and designer, Adrian Linford. Before the performance began and as scene changes were required, a drop down curtain containing various Shakespearean excerpts referring to Falstaff were a thoughtful touch, which added a sense depth, and I think helped keep audience anchored to the background of the tale. The settings were traditionally, but skimpily, Elizabethan. I found the trap door entrance and exit in the floor of Falstaff’s first act quarters, perhaps to offer the gratuitous information that the impoverished rogue was living an attic, unnecessary and distracting. Clearly, Falstaff couldn’t get through that door. Unfortunately the setting and direction of the last act, the dramatic and musical climax of the opera did not match the magic of its music. The music and libretto call for a sort of midsummer night’s fairy land setting. Shakespeare’s text calls on “fairies”and “elves” to pinch, tease and shake the villainous Falstaff. The words are even more amusing in Boito’s Italian, “pizzica, pizzica, stuzzica, spizzica, spizzica.” Unfortunately, the stage was shallow and essentially bare except for the required oak tree. Falstaff ’s punishment, set front and center on the foreshortened stage with the chorus lined up behind him, and with only a few “un-elfish” and “un-fairy” like creatures “attacking” him, was heavy handed and unconvincing.

Ah, but under James Conlon’s baton, the conducting of the act, in fact, of the entire opera was all “pizzica, stuzzica,” touch and go, light, airy, bouncy and merry as it should be.

Estelle Gilson


Cast and production information:

Dr. Caius: Robert Brubaker; Sir John Falstaff: Roberto Frontali; Bardolph: Rodell Rosel; Pistol: Valentin Anikin; Meg Page: Erica Brookhyser; Alice Ford: Carmen Giannattasio; Mistressuickly: Ronnita Nicole Miller; Nannetta: Ekaterina Sadovnikova; Fenton: Juan Francisco Gatell; Ford: Marco Caria. Conductor: James Conlon. Director: Lee Blakeley. Scenic and Costume Designer: Adrian Linford. Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher. Chorus Master: Grant Gershon.

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):