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SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL OPERA REVIEW
 

  Verdi, Falstaff: Soloists, Bayerisches Staatsorchester. Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper.Conductor: Fabio Luisi.Munich’s Nationaltheater. 28.7.2009 (JMI) 

Production from Bayersiche Staatsoper.

Direction: Eike Gramss.
Sets and Costumes: Gottfried Pielz.
Lighting: Manfred Voss.

Cast:
Sir John Falstaff: Ambrogio Maestri.
Alice Ford: Anja Harteros.
Ford: Michael Volle.
Mistress Quickly: Marie-Nicole Lemieux.
Nanetta: Elena Tsagallova.
Fenton: Daniil Shtoda.
Meg Page: Gabriela Scherer.
Doctor Cajus: Ulrich Ress.
Bardolfo: Kenneth Robertson.
Pistola: Steven Humes,


This production of Falstaff was premiered in Munich in January 2001 and it was revived for the last time four years ago under Zubin Mehta. Eike Gramss’ production is simple, pleasant and not intended as a new reading, but just presents the story, especially highlighting its buffo character. The action is brought to modern times and he moves the action from Windsor to Scotland, with a profusion of Scottish kilts (some very funny) and with Ford and his people searching for Falstaff carrying golf clubs. It is mainly well directed, although sometimes things seem exaggerated, but that is part of the buffo nature of this opera and this production.

The sets are very simple, consisting of a rotating, sloping platform, where the action takes place, using different props to mark the changes of scene. The end of Act II, when the laundry basket containing Falstaff is thrown into the 'Thames' is not exactly a coup de theatre, while the final scene in the forest finds its resolution using  video projections and excellent lighting. The costumes are bright, with beautiful gowns for Alice and Meg in Act II. As a whole it is a well achieved production which gives pleasure and foregoes any greater aspirations.

Fabio Luisi, currently musical director in Dresden and recently appointed to the same post in Zurich (from 2012), was somewhat uneven and did not come up to my expectations of him. I got the impression that there were not enough rehearsals because the ensembles, which are so important in this opera, did not flow too well. His reading was a little short of subtlety and of the comical sense that was so very present on stage.

Il Pancione, Sir John Falstaff, was Ambrogio Maestri, already a veteran in this role despite his youth. His voice was a little light on more than one occasion so that the voice of Ford was often darker than Falstaff’s. His interpretation was  also somewhat uneven with some good moments and with others somewhat flat, particularly in the final scene where he only came to life at the final Fugue. It is 7 years now since I last saw him in this role: then I found him too immature. He is now more mature, but he is still not quite  the Falstaff of my dreams.

Anja Harteros was an outstanding Alice Ford, although at first her voice was a little hard. This soon sorted itself out, and it was a pleasure to hear her in this part. Michael Volle was a buffo Ford, perhaps too much so. His voice has a wide and beautiful dark timbre which he used to good effect in his aria “È sogno o realtà”.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux was an excellent Mrs Quickly, always very funny and taking maximum advantage of her figure. Impeccable vocally, she was a great actress, transmitting all of her joy to the audience. When an artist is enjoying herself on stage, you notice it immediately and she was having a great time!

The Russian Elena Tsagallova was a brilliant Nanetta. Dressed in teenagers’ clothes, she made a delightful young girl. As a singer, she also offered a beautiful voice and was an accomplished interpreter. Today she is a light soprano, a very good soubrette, but she could easily become a most interesting soprano in more demanding roles.

Another Russian, the tenor Daniil Shtoda was the other youngster in the cast,  Fenton. He is vocally is more suited to the recording studio than to an opera house since his voice is very pleasant, but his projection is quite poor as yet. Meg Page was played by the young and beautiful Swiss mezzo soprano Gabriela Scherer, who made a very good impression. She has a pleasant voice of not particularly excessive volume. The rest of the characters were very well covered by regular singers from the opera company.

There was a full theatre, as there was every day, but without “suche karte” signs outside. All the artists received a very warm reception, especially Ambrogio Maestri (the winner in the decibels contest), Anja Harteros, Michael Volle, Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Elena Tsagallova. Fabio Luisi was also applauded but without too much enthusiasm.

José M Irurzun

 

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