Falstaff Review 1

Falstaff News 5The gamble paid off...

by Albert G. Storace

The Times of Malta
Wednesday 16th October 2013

 
Opera
Falstaff
Various soloists;
Aurora Opera Chorus;
Malta Philharmonic Orchestra/dir.
Colin Attard
Aurora Opera House
 
Despite the heat and humidity, I managed to enjoy to the full a rare performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s final masterpiece and that wonder of comic opera, Falstaff.
 
It is not easy to stage and it is not mainstream Verdi, so knowing local tastes, Aurora gambled. But fortune favours the brave and the gamble brought success and the large opera house was almost full.
 
Those who ventured to follow this very fine production drawn by the name Verdi and curiosity, were easily converted; they were convinced too by its sheer sparkle and mobility, with the well-etched characters revealing Verdi’s deep insight into human behaviour. At almost 80 years of age, he was inspired by a similarly great observer, Shakespeare, whose lyrics were so expertly crafted by Boito, the master librettist and Verdi’s equal as man of theatre.
 
This event was one of the best Aurora has ever staged, raising standards still higher and making yardsticks still wider. There was that energetic unifying force that is personified in Colin Attard, who believed so much in going ahead with this project to mark the composer’s birth bicentennial and the opera’s 120th anniversary.
 
This was achieved in a most worthy manner, in tandem with Novella Tabili’s excellent artistic direction and staging which was delightful, with sets of her own design expertly built by Paul Falzon and period costumes by Palermo’s Sartoria Pipi.
 
The Malta Philharmoic Orchestra was in truly sparkling form and projected the gambolling joy, mischief and intrigue which the score underlines so well. It is a miracle of ingeniousness with an example when male singers were having their say in ensemble, while the females were doing the same. Even if at cross-purposes, the music held everything together amid all that vocal patter and chatter. Sometimes one singer acted as bridge between the two.
 
If the opera lacks set arias, it abounds with a multitude of themes, one of the most attractive being the love theme. When it seems that Nannetta and Fenton are being launched into a duet, it is soon interrupted by more material; even when at one point Fenton seems to be about to go solo, it does not last too long.
 
There are some important monologues such as Sir John Falstaff’s, but the accent is on ensemble work, with a chorus only getting some prominence in the opera’s last scene.
 
Aurora Opera House put together a very strong cast, beginning with the title role entrusted late in the day to Argentinian baritone Leonardo López Linares, who was in excellent voice and in really good form acting out his part convincingly; he really made one look benignly at this birichone simpatico, the kind of rogue few could resist. Well, the bevy of women (less Nannetta) were not so charmed and were bent on teaching him a lesson. This was left to a fine trio of ladies to accomplish and they did it in every possible way.
 
Deserved plaudits go to Eva Mei’s Alice Ford, Agata Bienkowska’s Meg Page and contralto Elisabetta Fiorillo’s solidly reliable and powerful Dame Quickly. The latter’s achievement was all the more admirable because she had been ill throughout the preceding week.
 
The remaining lady in the cast, soprano Anna Skibinsky’s Nannetta, was more interested in avoiding a loveless match with Dr Caius for love of Fenton. She was pure, sheer joy to watch and hear, with a gorgeously limpid voice which soared to its loveliest in the opera’s best-known and rare solo Sul fil d’un soffio etesio for which one has to wait until the work’s last scene.
 
The other males in the cast were headed by Marzio Giossi’s superb Ford, whose main dread was being cuckolded by the fat knight and imposing his will upon Nannetta by insisting upon her marriage to Dr Caius. The latter was sung rather thinly by tenor Manuel Pierattelli. Tenor Filippo Adami’s Fenton started off a little bit shakily but eventually picked up and left nothing to be desired of him.
 
Bass Gianluca Breda’s booming Pistola was also very good and finely balanced with tenor Stefano Consolini’s Bardolfo who is more or less his side-kick, even if both are Falstaff’s grovelling retainers.
 
The chorus had little to do, except in the last scene but they did it well, with the ‘fairies’ among them looking very charming.
 
The performance, which was under the patronage of President George Abela, was also held in special memory of, and as a tribute to, the late Colin Best, honorary patron of the Aurora Opera House and great opera buff, who died last February.

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