Much better musically than it is visually, but what a cast and such amazing music
Falstaff is an opera I am familiar with and like very much. It is not one of my favourite Verdis, but the music and comedy sparkle and the story is a lot of fun. I saw this Falstaff for Jose Van Dam, who I have always admired, and while it is my least favourite so far of the Falstaffs I've seen(2001, 1976, 1993, 1982, 2003, 1999) it is definitely worth watching.
I have to say though that this Falstaff is one of productions for me was one of those productions that is much better musically than it is visually. I did find the sets much more sumptuous and detailed in especially the 2001 and 1993 productions. The costumes aren't too bad actually, in fact apart from Fenton's terrible pantaloons they do look lovely especially Alice, Nanetta and Falstaff's. But I was very disappointed in the sets and lighting. The sets are odd and uninspired to say the least, consisting of lots of brickwork, viaduct-like structures for Ford's garden and home and a single line of trees for a forest.
The lighting is also much too dark, it will work for a production of Il Trovatore, some scenes of Rigoletto, Macbeth and La Forza Del Destino and the prologue of Simon Boccanegra but not here. Anyone who wants to recognise the characters and see what's going on will be disappointed, as there were a number of scenes such as Act 1 that were so dim in lighting you had to squint to see what was going on. The camera work is quite good though, and the picture and sound quality also. Musically, it is excellent. The orchestra do a great job with the difficult score, making it sound sparkling and beautiful. The conducting is authoritative with seldom a moment that feels dull.
Of what is largely an ensemble cast, the performances are great. First and foremost, Jose Van Dam in the title role. I thought he was superb. I may prefer the larger than life characterisations of Gobbi, Plishka and Evans, but Van Dam adopts a more restrained approach that is more than ideal for the vulnerable parts of Falstaff's character. He is very good at acting sly, mischievous, grumpy, melancholic and often very funny. Vocally, although I am more used to the more sonorous and robust sound that Plishka and Terfel had for Falstaff, Van Dam has one of the more beautiful and colourful voices, which I loved.
He has a solid support cast to support him. I especially loved how waspish Barbara Madra's Alice was, likewise with William Stone's dark bemusement as Ford. Pantaloons aside, Laurence Dale is very dashing and fervent with a nice lyric tone, and Elzbieta Szmytka's Nanetta is vocally sweet and impressively sustained and dramatically appealing. Livia Budai connives convincingly as Mistress Quickly. Overall, visually it underwhelms, but the cast and music more than make up for it. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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