The last laugh
Los Angeles Opera
05/28/2005 - and 3, 6, 9, 12, and 15 June 2005
Giuseppe Verdi : Falstaff
Bryn Terfel (Falstaff), Kallen Esperian (Alice Ford), Celena Shafer (Nannetta), Milena Kitic (Meg Page), Jane Henschel (Mistress Quickly), Daniil Shtoda (Fenton), Vassily Gerello (Ford), David Cangelosi (Dr. Caius), Greg Fedderly (Bardolph), Dean Peterson (Pistol)
Stephen Lawless (director), Michael Stennett (costumer designer), Mark Jonathan (lighting designer), Hayden Griffin (set designer).
Peggy Hickey (choreographer), William Vendice (chorusmaster),
Kent Nagano (conductor).
For the better balance of Verdi’s life, he was known for his melodrammas, lyrical tragedies, lyrical dramas, and grand opera. It’s hard to imagine with such a serious mind this great Italian composer would end his life writing music for a lyrical comedy.
With the exception of Un giorno di regno (1840), Verdi’s second opera, Falstaff is the only other opera he composed that reflected a lighter, comical subject matter. In fact, no one dies in the opera!
Shakespeare was not unfamiliar to Verdi since he wrote two other operas, Macbeth (1847), and Othello (1887), involving melodramma and lyrical dramas, respectively. Throughout his life Verdi was always drawn to Falstaff, the character.
Falstaff is brilliantly scored. The orchestra moves the plot along at a rapid pace, and seldom uses the instruments solely as a means of supporting the singers’ voices. Perhaps because he knew the Italian traditions were being replaced by the growing avant garde trends found in Germany and France, he placed new demands on the singers themselves. According to Verdi, there was no room in Falstaff for “artists who want to sing too much…and fall asleep on the notes” and furthermore, would need to “loosen up their tongues and clarify their pronunciation”.
Making his Los Angeles Opera debut, Bryn Terfel (Falstaff) was a resounding success. His character portrayal could have jumped right out of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” on which the Boito libretto was based. His diving tumble into the laundry basket, the suggestive groping of Alice Ford in Act II, and the amusing attire as The Black Huntsman in Act III all added laughs to an already enjoyable farcical work.
The women’s quartet (“Quell’ otre”) ran in precise, speedy sync with the orchestral tempo set by Maestro Nagano. What added to the mesmerizing piece were the facial expressions, different from one another, looking in different directions, but singing on cue. Highly effective.
Falstaff is a work that is virtually void of structured arias as we know them from other Verdi operas with a few notable exceptions. Credit goes to one of the strongest performers of the evening, that of Celena Shafer (Nannetta), singing lightly and sweetly and handling with ease her high tessitura in the Fairy Queen aria (“Sul fil d’un soffio etesio”). The duets with Daniil Shtoda (Fenton) were pleasant enough, but his voice appeared washed in comparison to the other principals. He still managed to sing a beautiful rendition of his aria (“Dal labbro il canto estasiato vola”) in Act III.
This co-production between the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (London), the Teatro Communale (Florence), and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, first seen in Los Angeles in April 1982, returns for this year’s staging. Set during the reign of Henry IV of England, the sets were colorful, representative of the times in Merry Olde England. The Garter Inn in Act I was shrunk on stage, showing side curtains that detracted from the set. At the end of Act III Scene I the exterior of the Inn folded inward and magically turned into the lone trunk of Hearne’s Oak. Magnificent.
Kent Nagano maintained his tempo with alacrity, avoiding any linger moments. In Falstaff, this is a key ingredient to a successful production. The musical nuances were on cue with animated preciseness.