Pacific Opera Project's Falstaff-- Talent Wins Out

Sir John Falstaff is one of the most popular comedic characters in all of English and European literary history. He was invented by Shakespeare and can be found in three of his plays.  This blubbery boistrous buffoon was also embraced by Giuseppe Verdi, who chose to make him the subject of his last opera, Falstaff.  From the get-go the opera is full of contradictions: At times the stage romp seems too mundane for the gorgeous, enrapturing Verdi musical themes. And yet it is one of the most cohesive and well-structured of the entire comedy opera repertoire and fun to watch.

 

Our crazy hero Falstaff, Zeffin Quinn Hollis

Fast-forward to contemporary times: Today’s audiences can still enjoy the character’s silliness, his combination of hi-jinx and evil and his outlandish brashness. His motto, the theme of Verdi’s opera - that all of life is a joke - seems luxurious and outdated in our stressed-out, never-able-to-catch-up world. And yet it rings true on some deep, ontological level.

 

Strong compelling performance of Ford by Daniel Scofield

Pacific Opera Project (POP) has chosen to mount its new production of Falstaff in a fresh-air venue with beautiful views, on a warm summer’s night - which just happens to be the resting grounds of many of the rich and famous - at the top of the Forest Lawn cemetery.  Somehow that setting seems to reinforce the theme of life’s being a joke.  Why not perform at the graveside of the well-heeled? Some certainly learned - when they found they couldn’t take it with them- that life indeed is a joke.

 

Director Josh Shaw introduces the program

Like Falstaff himself, the cemetery as an opera production location is both enjoyable and problematic. Being outdoors among the trees and sky seems fantastic.  Much wine is made available to the audience to heighten the experience and mood.  And yet - the vastness of the great outdoors dissipates the lovely sounds of Verdi’s music.  This was a real disappointment, especially considering not only Verdi, but the awesome conductor and musical director of POP, Stephen Karr, and his musicians who never disappoint. The lack of raking of seats makes it difficult to feel intimacy from the general-admission chairs. Metallic folding chairs can be difficult for two-and-a half hours, especially for older audience members and those with back challenges.

 

Falstaff falls for Mistress Quickly (Sharmay Musacchio)'s tricks

All that said, the performers are fantastic!  They clearly gave their all, and there was some very notable talent before our eyes.  First off, Zeffin Quinn Hollis is tremendous as the lead character.  His buffoonery, the way he rolls his fat around and relishes in it are worth the price of admission. His voice is as clear and beautiful as he is graceful.  He takes his skills, under director/artistic director Josh Shaw’s guidance, to the limit.  Brilliant and rare to see.

Falstaff fancies himself suitor to Mistress Ford

 

I was also very impressed with the acting and baritone of Daniel Schofield as Ford.  He too is a powerhouse, and his heavier, sexier, more dramatic and passionate presence is a great counterbalance to Hollis’ expansiveness.

Falstaff and Ford square off

 

Sharmay Musacchio as Mistress Quickly played a driving character with her lovely contralto, going toe-to-toe with Falstaff in both trying and succeeding in outwitting the wit.

 

Nannetta (Annie Sherman) and Fenton (Nadav Hart) bring the romance

Young Annie Sherman playing Nannetta was enchanting in the young romantic daughter subplot.  She has a lovely and promising voice and presence. Her fiancé, Fenton, played by Nadav Hart, complements her singing with his dulcet tenor.

 

The Merry Wives of Windsor team of Mistress Quickly, Nannetta, Meg Page (Jessica Mirshak) and Alice Ford (Rebecca Sjöwall)

The grand finale in the graveyard is glorious. A chorus and cast of children appear and all seems to merge with the glory of Verdi’s music.  Although they were members of the nobility, the “merry wives of Windsor” plotted to teach Falstaff a mighty lesson, but their ultimate intentions were not malicious.  All comes together in one beautiful, synchronistic moment when true love wins out in the marriage of Nannetta and Fenton - and all the rascals are put in their places. A wonderful rendition of a masterpiece- done with POP's trademark flair.

 

A plethora of angels and fairies overcomes Falstaff

 Photos by Martha Benedictt.

 

Georja Umano is an actress and animal activist.

 

 "Falstaff"  POP tickets

Saturday Sept. 19 at 7

Sundayd Sept. 20 at 7

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