Falstaff, Metropolitan Opera, live cinema relay, December 2013Posted on 15 December 2013
On stage at Covent Garden last year, Robert Carsen’s new production showed Falstaff on a horse in Act III, and though I missed that on the Met cinema screening the comedy seemed more natural than in London.
There was an appearance of spontaneity, with the performers playing the whole thing in a rambunctiously convincing way, but what made it really gripping was the superb conducting by James Levine. He gave us moments of unadulterated joy, as in Act I after Falstaff has mocked his henchmen’s appeal to honour, addressing them as cloache d’ignominia. The orchestral support for his glorious histrionics came over with huge effect, but Levine also produced wonderful sensitivity in the intricate ensembles, particularly at the end of Act I, and a beautiful fugue at the end of Act III.
As Falstaff, Ambrogio Maestri was just as delightful here at the Met as he was in London, never over-egging the role, and singing with huge lyricism. The 1950s costumes suited him admirably, from the field sports tweed of Act II to the scarlet hunting jacket in late Act III. The post-war setting helped make his hedonism appear as if from another era, a sort of left-over from an earlier time, just as in Shakespeare when Prince Hal turns against him in Henry IV.
Franco Vassallo as Ford made a fine match for Falstaff, though never in any way overshadowing him, and Paolo Fanale was an engaging young Fenton, producing wonderfully long vocal lines and a very fine solo in Act III. His beloved Nannnetta was beautifully played by Lisette Oropesa, whose vocal clarity and stage portrayal gave a terrific sense of youthful enthusiasm. Like the Meg Page of Jennifer Johnson Cano she sang a Rheinmaiden in the Ring, but this was quite different — a terrific solo performance. So indeed was the Alice Ford of Angela Meade, whose stage presence and sense of comic timing were complemented by a wonderfully assured vocal technique. And where would we be without the admirable vocal and physical energy of embodied by the voice and presence of Stephanie Blythe as Mistress Quickly. She and the rest of the cast helped provide what Verdi’s Falstaff really should be — a celebration of humanity.
Fine interval features presented by Renee Fleming, particularly the interview with Ambrogio Maestri speaking in his effervescent Italian, having cooked up a risotto earlier. When she asked him about his interaction with James Levine his answer, ‘Chapeau’! summarised the whole excellent performance.