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Seen and Heard Opera Review


Verdi, Falstaff: English Touring Opera, Northcott Theatre, Exeter 15.11 2005 (BK)

Conductor – Stuart Stratford

Director Damiano Michieletto

Designer – Joanna Parker

Lighting – Tina MacHugh

Sir John Falstaff – Andrew Slater

Bardolph – Ronald Samm

Pistol – Alan Fairs

Dr Caius – Christopher Ovenden

Ford – Craig Smith

Alice Ford – Julie Unwin

Meg Page – Wendy Dawn Thompson

Mistress Quickly – Harriet Williams
Nanetta – Rebecca Bottone
Fenton – Thomas Walker


Andrew Slater (Falstaff) Harriet Williams (Mistress Quickly)

Good things do come in small bundles, even in a miniaturised 'Fat Knight.' ETO's new Falstaff is amiable, confident and yet another feather in the company's well-trimmed cap. Except maybe, for its pantomime costumes.


Falstaff productions should be comic at the least and this one certainly is. Andrew Porter's smooth English translation allows the jokes to come through clearly and Damiano Michieletto's stage direction is pacy enough to underline the fun without lapsing into slapstick. It's a good-humoured production this, in which the women's revenge is untainted by malice.



Wendy Dawn Thomson (Meg) and Rebecca Bottone (Nanetta)


Jonathan Dove's skillful orchestral reduction reveals the subtleties of Verdi's score nicely and Stuart Stratford's expert conducting clearly allows his players and singers to enjoy their performances. Apart from one lapse at the beginning of Act 1 where the orchestra was too loud in the confines of Exeter's Northcott Theatre, balance was well preserved throughout and the music was both energetic and highly engaging.

The singing was good too, with particularly clear diction from the whole cast. Andrew Slater played Falstaff with an easy affection and Alan Fairs (Pistol) and Ronald Samm (Bardolph) made themselves into characterful side-kicks. Without exception, all of the women were in particularly good voice and Rebecca Bottone's (Nanetta's) pairing with Thomas Walker's strongly sung and lyrical Fenton was nothing less than charming. By the end of Act III, Verdi's ultimate operatic fugue (Tutto nel mondo è burla - Jesting is man's vocation, ) summed up the performance properly: this was excellent entertainment worthy of a second visit.


And as for the costumes then? They seemed hard to manage for many of the women, the French beret-ed Caius (Christopher Ovenden) in a tailored pinafore dress and burglar's stripey jumper, looked silly rather than amusing, and Falstaff's Malvolio-like cross gartering in Act III made an additional but misplaced Shakespearean reference. These were very small carps though in an otherwise enjoyable evening.

Bill Kenny




Falstaff as Herne the Hunter (Act III)



Pictures © Keith Pattison

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