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10 Oct 2015

Falstaff at Forest Lawn

Sir John Falstaff appears in three plays by William Shakespeare: the two Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Falstaff at Forest Lawn

A review by Maria Nockin


The character appears in operas by Giuseppe Verdi, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Otto Nicolai. Composer Arrigo Boito wrote the libretto for Verdi’s Falstaff using scenes from all three plays. Having already composed Macbeth and Otello, Verdi wrote the music for his third Shakespeare opera when he was approaching the age of eighty. The Teatro alla Scala in Milan premiered Falstaff on February 9, 1893.

On Sunday night September 20, 2015, Pacific Opera Project presented Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff at Forest Lawn, the huge cemetery in Los Angeles. At the very top of the highest hill, there was a large patio and an ancient pine tree. It wasn’t the oak specified in the libretto, but its branches spread over a wide area that included a multi-level stage. The audience was seated at tables, each of which was set with a plate of finger foods and a voucher for beverages. It was the perfect background for outdoor theater on a warm night.

Maggie Green’s costume designs involved checkered cloth of various hues that allowed onlookers to see who was related to whom by matching colors. Ryan Shull’s nuanced lighting made many of the stage effects possible. Josh Shaw’s staging was thoroughly amusing. He brought out the hearty laughs built into the opera with precise timing while adding a few more light moments that helped make this an evening of genuine fun.

Led by the powerful vocal personality of Zeffin Quinn Hollis as Sir John, the singing actors all performed at a high level. Hollis dominated the stage whenever he was on it and he sang with bright, sometimes deliberately raucous tones. Sharmay Musacchio’s rich dark sound and expressive ability made her an imposing Mistress Quickly.

At the other end of the vocal scale, Annie Sherman was a radiant Nanetta who sang with a liquid silver sound. Tenor Nadav Hart was well matched with her as her lover, Fenton. He, too, had a light lyric voice that he used with thoughtful phrasing and impressive breath control. Rebecca Sjöwall was an intense Alice Ford who protected her family from Falstaff’s machinations. As her husband, Daniel Scofield sang with an opulent voice and held his own against the interloper who hoped to get his hands on the family money.

In this opera, the middle feminine voice sometimes gets lost in the fray, but Jessica Mirshak definitely held her own on this stage and she made Meg Page well-defined character. Clay Hilley was a pedantic Dr. Caius while Kyle Patterson and Phil Meyer were fun to watch as Bardolfo and Pistola.

Pacific Opera Project (POP) is a small company that employs the best young talent found in the area. Some of their artists are familiar because they have also sung at LA Opera. POP has an ample chorus of local opera lovers and it even has an excellent children’s chorus that introduces many young people to opera. What they do not have is expensive scenery or a large orchestra. Stephen Karr conducted Jonathan Dove’s reduction of the score which called for a mere fifteen players. While the small orchestra may have diluted some of Verdi’s grand effects, it enabled the Los Angeles audience to enjoy a fine performance by excellent artists.

Maria Nockin

Cast and Creative Team:

Sir John Falstaff, Zeffin Quinn Hollis; Alice Ford, Rebecca Sjöwall; Ford, Daniel Scofield; Mistress Quickly, Sharmay Musacchio; Nanetta, Annie Sherman; Fenton, Nadav Hart; Dr. Caius, Clay Hilley; Meg Page, Jessica Mirshak; Bardolfo, Kyle Patterson; Pistola, Phil Meyer; Conductor, Stephen Karr; Director and Designer, Josh Shaw; Costumes, Maggie Shaw; Lighting, Ryan Shull.

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