Falstaff, Glyndebourne Festival Opera | Opera reviews, news & interviews
Falstaff, Glyndebourne Festival Opera
Comedy is king in a Falstaff revival which is consistently enjoyable but could be a little less nice
In this revival of Richard Jones's 2009 production, the action has been very effectively shifted to post-war Windsor with Sir John Falstaff (Laurent Naouri) as down-at-heel gentry maintaining delusions of superiority, rubbing up against an ascendant middle class. Nannetta and Fenton are presumably about to play their part in the baby boom. Period features abound, from chintz and mock Tudor to soda siphons, troupes of Brownies and a Victrola cabinet.
There are witty little touches, which add to the visual appeal of the production, such as the presence of a (not terribly realistic) cat in every scene which, manipulated by a hidden puppeteer, occasionally lifts its head to follow the action. The set, though hardly lavish, is completely different for each scene, so there is plenty to look at. It feels a little churlish, therefore, to suggest that the long scene changes (curtain down, lights up, long enough for the audience to have a good natter) were a bit disruptive to the overall flow of the piece. A small point.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment brings out the very best in Verdi's boisterous and lyrical scoreThere are no weak links in the cast in a piece which in any case doesn’t offer too many opportunities for individuals to hog the limelight; Verdi, very late in his life, largely avoids the set-piece aria in favour of forward momentum. However, there are certainly highlights.
Laurent Naouri is a wonderful Falstaff with a real knack for physical comedy, helped by a grotesque fat suit, which miraculously doesn’t seem to hinder his very energetic performance. Christopher Purves, who took on this role in the production’s first outing in 2009, may have seemed like a tough act to follow, but Naouri – whose busy international schedule rarely brings him to our notice in the UK – is more than equal to the challenge. Quite apart from a magnetic stage presence, he has a big voice which is also nimble enough for passages of comic patter. If anything, his jolly, bumbling persona makes him rather difficult to dislike, and makes it harder still to sympathise with the vindictive Merry Wives.
Mistress Quickly is a linchpin role, ferrying messages around and setting up the pranks. Susanne Resmark does a fantastic job, with a great line in matronly hauteur and quizzical glances, while breezing through the vocal requirements with deceptive ease. Ailyn Perez’s feisty Alice is a joy, and her voice combines beautifully with Lucia Cirillo’s Meg. Elena Tsallagova is a suitably girlish Nannetta, who slightly outsings her lovestruck Fenton (Antonio Poli).
Graham Clark (Dr Caius), Colin Judson (Bardolfo), Paolo Battaglia (Pistola) bring plenty of characterisation to their supporting roles, though Roman Burdenko’s Ford could do with being a little more unpleasant, so his subplot comeuppance would be a bit more satisfying.
In the pit, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – playing on late 19th-century instruments – plays brilliantly, bringing out the very best in Verdi’s often boisterous and occasionally lyrical score. The conductor for Falstaff needs just as much a sense of humour as the leading man to make it work, and Sir Mark Elder gets it just right, from passages of frenetic counterpoint to soaring orchestral amore.
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