An unexpected delight
The Jane Mallett Theatre
Antonio Salieri: Falstaff, ossia Le tre burle
Dion Mazerolle (Falstaff), Allison Angelo (Mrs Ford), Colin Ainsworth (Mr Ford), Michèle Bogdanowicz (Mrs Slender), Justin Welsh (Mr Slender), Sydney Baedke (Betty), Diego Catalá (Bardolfo)
The Voicebox Chorus, Robert Cooper (chorus director), The Aradia Ensemble, Larry Beckwith (conductor),
Guillermo Silva-Marin (dramatic advisor, lighting designer)
D. Mazerolle (Courtesy of Voicebox)
Antonio Salieri: Is there any other composer whose name is well-known (if not notorious) while his music remains obscure (despite a spate of recording in recent decades)?
There are no fewer than four recordings of Salieri’s Falstaff (subtitle ossia Le tre burle (or “The Three Tricks”), although live performances of this or any of his other works remain scarce. One didn’t know what to expect from this performance - and it turned out to be very enjoyable.
Librettist Carlo Prospero Defranceschi adapted Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor by streamlining the cast (for example, there are no young lovers known in the Boito/Verdi treatment as Nanetta and Fenton), but retaining all three tricks the wives play on Falstaff (at one point he is persuaded to be dressed as a woman, an episode omitted by Verdi). There is also no Mistress Quickly. Her function as go-between is handled by Mrs Ford in the guise of a German woman. This gives rise to an exchange in mingled/mangled German and Italian, no doubt a source of mirth for the Viennese audience which was acquainted with opera in Italian and singspiel in German.
The overture gives no foreshadowing of the action to follow and comes cross as a generic chunk of music from the era. Once the singing starts, however, the work really takes off. The musical numbers are fluent and fully enliven the dramatic situation. The composition inevitably must be compared to Mozart and (of course) it lacks the spark of genius (otherwise it would be a repertory staple). It was premiered in Vienna’s ranking theatre in 1799, when composers like Cimarosa and Paisiello were locally active. The operatic repertory that has come down to our era leaves a chronological gap - and it is great that an organization like Voicebox can turn a spotlight on a work like this.
The well-chosen cast evidently enjoyed performing the work. They kept a close watch on their scores (understandable for a one-off concert performance), but still participated with gusto in the semi-staged action. Dion Mazerolle deserves top marks for establishing and maintaining a the title character whose semi-obliviousness to his own foolishness helps him keep a modicum of dignity.
Soprano Allison Angelo and mezzo-soprano Michèle Bogdanowicz both brought terrific voices and personalities to their roles as the two wives.
Tenor Colin Ainsworth does double duty portraying the simmering Mr Ford and the timorous persona - and voice - he adopts as “Mr Brook”. One of the highlights of the piece is his vengeful aria accompanied by clarinet - nicely played by Graham Lord. Baritone Justin Welsh ably filled the role of Mr Slender, as did Sydney Baedke as the Fords’ maid, Betty, and Diego Catalá as Falstaff’s harried servant, Bardolfo.
The Aradia Ensemble, with just 12 players this time around, could have used more strings but they played well under Larry Beckwith’s astute direction.
Next up for Voicebox (formerly known simply as "Opera in Concert") is a world premiere: Isis and Osiris by Peter Anthony Togni, April 1 and 3.