Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Falstaff: a play extempore

Wiener Staatsoper, 24/09/2011

Ambrogio Maestri | Falstaff
Marco Caria | Ford
Ho-yoon Chung | Fenton
Ildikó Raimondi | Alice Ford
Sylvia Schwartz | Nannetta
Marie-Nicole Lemieux | Mrs. Quickly
Michael Roider | Dr. Cajus
Herwig Pecoraro | Bardolfo
Janusz Monarcha | Pistola
Nadia Krasteva | Meg Page

Alain Altinoglu | Conductor
Marco Arturo Marelli | Director

This Falstaff isn’t much different from the other harmlessly superficial Marelli productions I’ve seen – four or five of those being enough to observe how effectively his fitfully amusing brand of charm can cover up ideas thrown together on a whim. A huge sewage pipe runs into the Garter Inn, to take just one example that shouldn’t be interrogated too closely for signs of critique  it’s only there for the wry smile that comes when Ambrogio Maestri, arms outstretched and grinning like an ass, stands in it to proclaim ‘Quest'è il mio regno’ (this is my kingdom). 

Bryn Terfel, this production's first Falstaff
When the Inn is lowered below stage its planked roof becomes a bare set for Ford’s house scenes (played as a lively comedy of errors) and Falstaff’s humbling at Windsor Park (relocated to a Scandinavian fir forest with visiting KKK delegation). The Klan look faintly ridiculous as they rattle kitchen knives and barbecue forks, which is perhaps for the best, if not Marelli’s intention. I can live without seeing Falstaff poked and prodded, but something more imaginative could have been done than having him amble lamely around the stage, tied up in fibre-optic tubing. The final scene is staged as a riotous party with the cast holding up coloured letters that spell out, predictably, ‘Tutto nel mondo è burla’ (all the world's a joke).

Those looking for a darker Falstaff would not be satisfied with Ambrogio Maestri’s lovable rogue, but his character acting is solid and the sense of an Epicurean good life settled into without regrets communicated with deft touches. His baritone lacks lustre but cuts through the orchestra clearly enough, and in the upper reaches the tone is surprisingly resonant. Of the women, Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s Quickly stole the show, the ‘Reverenza’ gag in the music always a pleasure to hear in her burnished contralto. Ildikó Raimondi’s sharp-witted Alice didn’t find much of a match in Marco Caria, whose delivery of ‘È sogno o realtà’ was so stiff that his upstaging by the stage elevator reveal of Falstaff’s Malvolian seduction costume came as a blessed relief. Sylvia Schwartz doesn’t have a big voice, but paired with Ho-yoon Chung’s light tenor she sounded fine.

Ensemble posed some problems: Bardolfo and Pistola’s mock-contrapuntal Amen was a mess and it was hard to get a handle on the notes being sung in the garbled quartets, quintets and final fugue. Rising star Alain Altinoglu kept much better control of the orchestra, which sounded crisp and buoyant. But he could have done more. The pit was half-Philharmoniker (Altinoglu = Dominique Meyer’s BFF?) and unusually willing to co-operate. If Franz Welser-Möst can make the most of that opportunity, is there an excuse for anyone else not to?

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