Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff at the LA Opera is a bright, witty, rousing, silly, fantastic production. Italian baritone Roberto Frontali in the lead role (where has he been hiding all these seasons?) is a multi-talented treasure to enjoy. The nuances of his comedy buffoon acting are reminiscent of the antics of the late, great comedy actor Zero Mostel. His powerful and gorgeous singing, which we experienced for the first time at LA Opera when he sang Count di Luna in the 2004 production of Il Trovatore, clearly makes him, as it says in the program notes, “one of the leading baritones of his generation.”
This energetic show is quick, like Shakespeare’s writing. It is in his Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV) where we first come upon the big-bellied knight John Falstaff. The repartee is so fast it is almost difficult to keep up with subtitles and watch the actions onstage at the same time. There is no traditional overture to slow this opera down. The music is full-bodied, funny and a propos. Indeed it is said that with this his final masterpiece, Verdi completely reinvented the genre of operatic comedy.
With the fusion of verbal text and musical score, Falstaff’s pomposity, ridiculousness and yet clever and sincere devotion to his own desires are well accented. Every joke and feeling of the characters, it seems, is gloriously resounded by the perfectly timed beats of Verdi’s music, flawlessly executed by the orchestra under brilliant resident conductor James Conlon.
Verdi penned this his last opera at age 79 upon the urging of his long-time librettist and collaborator, Arrigo Boito. The composer was thrilled with Boito’s draft and they worked closely together despite limitations of age and illness. The project turned into pure joy for Verdi as he didn’t have to consider theatre or personal commissions – he basically was writing for his own pleasure.
This freedom allowed Verdi to create new approaches to the comedy, including the introduction of a fugue, a genre more frequently associated with sacred music, with full chorus, in the final scene of the opera.
Congratulations to British director Lee Blakeley and his compatriots scenery/costume designer Adrian Linford (both debuting at LA Opera for this show) and Nicola Bowie, choreographer, who succeeded with the talented performers in bringing every scene to life.
Special appreciation goes to Joel Sorensen who at the last minute stepped in for ailing tenor Robert Brubaker as the quirky, blustery Dr. Caius, who bursts in the very first scene with angry complaints and helps set the tone for the whole opera. Sorensen’s jumpy energy is a great contrast to the laconic, sure-footed Falstaff. Falstaff’s lackeys, Rodell Rosel as Bardolph and Valentin Anikin as Pistol, also delivered the talent goods to help set up Falstaff’s first aria, the both funny and memorable “L’onore! Ladri! ( Honor! Thieves!), which is an adaptation of Sir John’s famous speech on honor, taken from Henry IV Part One.
LA Opera’s own Ronnita Nicole Miller as Mistress Quickly was a knockout as her character deftly led Falstaff into a plot to expose his lies. Russian ingénue Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Nannetta, with her young lover Argentine tenor Juan Francisco Gatell as Fenton were delightful in their ever-present romantic trysts. Carmen Giannastasio as Alice and Erica Brookhyser as Meg, were well matched as the scheming housewives. Marco Caria had some great arias as Ford, and at times his vocal intensity parallels that of the awesome Frontali.
If you love Shakespeare or comedy or Verdi, go see this fun piece and be thrilled by the many layers of artistry packed in! Kudos to LA Opera!
Photos by Robert Millard
Georja Umano is an actress and animal activist.
Los Angeles Opera
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 687-3490 fax
- Wednesday November 13, 2013 07:30 PM
- Saturday November 16, 2013 07:30 PM
- Thursday November 21, 2013 07:30 PM
- Sunday November 24, 2013 02:00 PM
- Sunday December 01, 2013 02:00 PM