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Falstaff Revisited

Kennedy Center Opera House
10/10/2009 -  & October 12, 17, 21, 25m, 27, 30, 2009
Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff
Robin Leggate (Dr. Caius), Alan Opie (Sir John Falstaff), David Cangelosi (Bardolfo), Grigory Soloviov (Pistola), Elizabeth Bishop (Meg Page), Tamara Wilson (Alice Ford), Nancy Maultsby (Mistress Quickly), JiYoung Lee (Nannetta), Yingxi Zhang (Fenton), Timothy Mix (Ford)
Chorus of the Washington National Opera, Steven Gathman (Chorus Master), Orchestra of the Washington National Opera, Sebastian Lang-Lessing (Conductor)
Hayden Griffin (Set Designer), Timm Burrow, Christian Räth (Costume Designers), Mark McCullough (Lighting Designer), Mimi Legat (Choreographer), Christian Räth (Stage Director)

A. Opie as Falstaff (© Karin Cooper)

The Washington National Opera opened its second opera of the Fall Season with a fresh and rollicking production of Verdi’s final opera Falstaff. It is distinguished by original and innovative staging, and by superb company ensemble. Individual performances were not always “top-notch,” and the orchestra was patchy in sections and consistently played too loud all evening long, but this did not mar the overall effect, which was witty, sophisticated, and engaging.

Alan Opie made an excellent Sir John Falstaff. His voice is not particularly opulent, as far as Verdi baritones are concerned, but he was completely at one with the role, and brought many touches of irony and world wise philosophy as well as comedy to his portrayal. His finest moments came in Act III where he sits on the bank of a river after being dumped there from a laundry basket by the “merry wives of Windsor.” He ponders the sorry state of the world and rejoices in the simple pleasures of life, like a goblet of good wine to raise and warm the spirit.

The finest singing of the evening was provided by soprano Tamara Wilson as Alice Ford, and by the WNO chorus. Ms. Wilson is a true Verdi dramatic soprano. Her voice was lush and impressive and easily soared above everyone else in all of the many ensembles.
The singing of the WNO chorus was once again marked by tight control and glorious sound. They moved and acted as a solid unit and were especially noteworthy in the last act as the spooks and goblins of Windsor Park.

As Nannetta, soprano JiYoung Lee had serious intonation problems. She did not sing one note squarely on pitch the entire evening. After a while she began to make my teeth ache.
Her young love interest Fenton, sung by tenor Yingxi Zhang, was not particularly distinguished either. He is not a bad singer, but he needs some maturity of style. His singing was monochromatic and colorless, and his acting was much too animated.

Baritone Timothy Mix did not make much of an impression as Ford. He seemed uneasy on stage, and although his voice is fine, his singing was not distinguished. His big aria “E sogno, o realtà” went for nothing. Considering that director Christian Räth set up Mr. Mix beautifully for this famous scene, it was disappointing at best. Placed in a solo spotlight in front of a stunning backdrop of massive antlers, he should have conquered the house.

Nancy Maultsby made a humorous and resoundingly deep-voiced Dame Quickly. Her “Riverenza” scene with Sir John was one of the highlights of the evening. Elizabeth Bishop was also excellent as Meg Page. As directed by Räth, the quartet of women made a fine and cohesive ensemble, and they were a major strength contributing to the evening’s success.

Robin Leggate and David Cangelosi as Dr. Caius and Bardolfo are as fine a pair of comic comprimarios, as you are likely to hear in any major opera house around the world. I was most impressed, however, with young Grigory Soloviov as Pistola. His booming basso voice is of prime quality, and he has a handsome and commanding stage presence. Mr. Soloviov will not be long relegated to comprimario parts. I predict a major career for him as a principal artist in the bass repertoire of Italian, French, and Russian operas.

Stage Director Christian Räth deserves well-earned kudos for a lion’s share of the success of this production. His “revisiting” of the old classic abounded with fresh insights and wonderfully comic touches. His concept of a “play within a play” worked very well and drew quite a deal of laughter from the opening night audience. I have seen Mr. Räth’s work in other productions at the WNO, but this was by far his best effort. Falstaff has never been the most popular opera in the Verdi cannon as it lacks the concerted melodic arias that punctuate his middle period. It is, however, a masterpiece and one of his very finest compositions. He only wrote two comedies. The first, Un giorno di regno, was a failure at it’s premiere and it is seldom revived. This, his last opera, composed when Verdi was almost eighty, remains to this day on the outer fringe of the standard repertoire. If you do not know this opera, now is a great opportunity to view it in a rousing production.

Micaele Sparacino



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