Not quite the sum of its parts

Verdi – Falstaff.

Falstaff – Ambrogio Maestri

Alice Ford – Ana María Martínez

Ford – Dalibor Jenis

Meg Page – Kai Rüütel

Mistress Quickly – Marie-Nicole Lemieux

Nannetta – Amanda Forsythe

Fenton – Joel Prieto

Dr Caius – Carlo Bosi

Bardolph – Alasdair Elliott

Pistol – Lukas Jakobski

Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Daniele Gatti.  Stage Director – Robert Carsen.

Royal Opera House, London.  Tuesday, May 15th, 2012. 

I had been looking forward to this new production of Falstaff for quite a while. It contains one of my favourite singers – the wonderful Saguenay contralto, Marie-Nicole Lemieux – a fine cast and an experienced conductor and producer. Moreover, this is a work that makes one glad to be alive and reminds everyone of the wonder of human nature. The last production was Peter Stein’s WNO one staged at the Liceu with the great Joan Pons in the title role. I also recently saw Robert Carsen’s Iphigénie en Tauride in Toronto and thought it managed to capture the spirit of the piece wonderfully. So hopes were certainly high tonight.

The first thing to mention must surely be the singing. It was incredibly well-cast, certainly as far as the ladies are concerned. Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s Quickly suitably stole the show with her ‘reverenza’s in Act 2. She threw herself gamely into the piece and she was magnificent.  Ana María Martínez was an excellent Alice Ford. I really wish I could get to hear her more often. She has a charming voice, one that is easily recognizable and has real star quality on stage. Amanda Forsythe’s Nannetta also stood out for her sweet vocalizations – I don’t find the voice itself particularly individual but it is technically brilliant and she is an engaging stage presence. I found Kai Rüütel’s Meg rather harsh in tone I’m afraid.

As for the men, Joel Prieto gave us a promising Fenton –he exudes much physical glamour and he sang the role with great sensitivity if slightly too reedy a tone. Dalibor Jenis’ Ford was efficient but a little rough and ready and the smaller roles were very well taken. As for Ambrogio Maestri in the title role – the vocalization was superb, the role was well within his grasp but for me I just didn’t feel that he dominated the stage in the way that he should have. It’s true that he doesn’t quite have the experience of Joan Pons for example but he has sung the role a large number of times around the world and in several prestigious theatres.

I think part of the blame here should rest with Carsen. I found the staging lacked something in terms of comic timing – although I admit I was a long way away from the stage. There were certainly some wonderful moments – Act 2 was wonderfully done but I felt that it took a long time to warm up and did not quite reach those heights after the interval. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I would say that the production lacked both a sense of the comedy and of the humanity that is inherent in the score. It looked wonderfully handsome though.

Daniele Gatti conducted well and pacing overall was tight. Occasionally it came across as a little heavy-handed though but in general it was an efficient and precise reading.

Ultimately for me this Falstaff was a bit of a missed opportunity. This is one of the most life-enhancing works in the repertoire but tonight it just did not quite convince. Perhaps later in the run it could be tightened up but it certainly benefitted from some terrific performances from Lemieux and Martínez.


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