Verdi, Falstaff (Royal Opera House Orchestra cond. Michael Schønwandt)
I went to the revival of Falstaff at ROH last week cold, other than reading the plot in the programme when I got there. Robert Carsen had set it in the 1950s for the post-war social changes, but it was also a deeply stylish period. It resembled the sort of modernity and luxuriousness of an ocean-liner or gentlemen’s club. Falstaff had put himself up at a very fine inn. Next, a giant bourgeois kitchen – a certain kind of fitted modernity for old-fashioned farce. As we got in to the realm of stag horns and red jackets, I was less sure what it all meant, but it was deeply enjoyable.
Not only is the ROH orchestra a fine one, but very hard working too. They had performed Bohème at lunch-time, and with only an hour or two spare, were back to do Falstaff. There might have been rehearsals too. This seemed a decent account, musically; but this is not Verdi at his finest – it was his last opera but it is different to what you might expect. Musically, the melodies are much less hummable, frankly the whole thing is less memorable. The orchestra performed well at the hands of Michael Schønwandt.
On the other hand dramatically it is extremely interesting. A fairly large cast with dynamics between all, is carried off far more successfully than in many operas with similar complexity. Such as La Finta, for which you may require a degree. There is a reason 90 pc of the operatic canon deals with no more than two couples. Yet here all the goings-on work well enough - mature handling by Verdi makes it so.
The male voices were especially strong. Ambrogio Maestri lacked no power and brought much humour through his tone. Luis Gomes and the troublesome pair Bardolfo (Alasdair Elliott) and
Pistol (Lukas Jakobski) were perfect foils to Maestri’s old knight. Nannetta (Anna Devin) was very fine too.
Overall: a real hoot, which I’d be happy to see again if revived.
In rep until 18th July.
Cast & Credits
Conductor - Michael Schønwandt
Sir John Falstaff - Ambrogio Maestri
Alice Ford - Ainhoa Arteta
Ford - Roland Wood
Nannetta - Anna Devin
Fenton - Luis Gomes
Mistress Quickly - Agnes Zwierko
Meg Page - Kai Rüütel
Dr Caius - Peter Hoare
Bardolfo - Alasdair Elliott
Pistol - Lukas Jakobski
Royal Opera Chorus
Concert Master - Peter Manning
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Music - Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto - Arrigo Boito
Director - Robert Carsen
Set designs - Paul Steinberg
Costume designs - Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting design - Robert Carsen
Lighting design - Peter van Praet