In review: Falstaff, man of faults
Verdi's Falstaff is a hard-on-his-luck protagonist who lives outside his means while considering himself God's gift to women. Baritone Craig Colclough brilliantly plays the old washed-up knight in Opera Vlaanderen's production of this Verdi classic. With comedic timing - and tasteful drunkenness - Colclough captures his audience while exhibiting his extraordinary vocal talent. Falstaff has many, many faults, and his lack of moral compass makes the audience question if we should indeed root for such a man; but his resilient self-confidence and delusion fuels the comedic role that allows the public to accept such tasteless behavior from a loser like Falstaff.
Conducted by Tomáš Netopil and directed by Austrian Academy Award-winner Christoph Waltz, the tone for the production is sombre and the set is minimal. Beige and greys bathe the stage with few props and decor. Yet the brilliant costume design by Judith Hoste mixes Shakespearean-inspired tops with 1950's skirts and work pants, bringing vivid colour and life to each character and much needed light to the excessively sombre stage production.
The lack of chorus and other large-ensemble pieces in this particular work puts pressure on the supporting roles to not just sing exquisitely but act the part too. This they did – both Bardolfo (tenor Denzil Delaere) and Pistola (bass Markus Suihkonen) excellently portrayed Falstaff's bumbling henchmen; the love affair between Fenton - sung by sweetly-toned tenor Julien Behr and Nannetta – sung by soprano Anat Edri, captured the audience.
Another strong artistic performance was seen by the messenger Mrs. Quickly (contralto Iris Vermillion) who delivers her letters and later convinces the humiliated Falstaff to re-attempt to woo the rich married woman, Mrs. Alice Ford. Alice is played by soprano Jacquelyn Wagner, who does an excellent job at duping the fat knight into believing he has what it takes to be her lover – all in the hopes to trick poor Falstaff and teach him a deserved lesson in humility and morality.
Despite the sombre mis-en-scene for a comedy, the characters pull the production together with finesse and theatrical flair. The artistic decision to put the intermission in the middle of Act III makes for a long first half – and the energy in the room seemed to dwindle before they called the curtain for a much needed breather. This decision made more sense after the intermission - there is a surprise for the audience as far as staging goes, and it doesn't disappoint.
The tone of the opera stays quite dark right until the end regardless of the comedy the actors are displaying and the theme of the finale "The whole world is a farce, and man is born a fool". Perhaps the production team could have lit the stage a bit to lighten the mood, instead of keeping the actors - and orchestra - in the dark until the curtain closed.
Vlaanderen Opera's Falstaff is full of laughs and legitimate singing - featuring a strong cast that carries the piece right until the end regardless of the dark and monochromatic sets and design. Verdi's music, libretto and characters portray comedy and light themes that culminate at the end of the opera. The dark set and stagnant staging in the finale didn't work well with the music and characters explored throughout the previous two and a half acts.
Still, the opera offers an excellent showing of vocal technique and strong dramatic talent from the entire cast. It is a performance worth watching this holiday season.The production runs at Opera Antwerpen until December 31st and continues in Opera Ghent from January 10th to Jan 20th.
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