Timothy Mix (Ford) in the Jealousy Aria, Falstaff, Washington National Opera (photo by Karin Cooper)
Alan Opie was drafted on short notice to replace Gordon Hawkins in the title role, who had originally been picked as Ford, so it has been something of a carousel cast. He won high praise for the role a decade ago, but although he remained humorous enough in his acting, his voice has faded, at least as heard on Saturday night, making for an oddly understated Falstaff. (Just for comparison, the WNO's last Falstaff, in 1982, featured none other than Thomas Stewart as the fat knight.) Young soprano Tamara Wilson got the job done as Alice Ford but did not soar when she needed to soar, as on the dramatic line at "Ma il viso tuo su me risplenderà." Elizabeth Bishop was similarly pale as Meg Page, making Nancy Maultsby, also heard as Quickly with Santa Fe Opera in 2008, the best part of the wives' quartet. Robin Leggate was clear and cutting as Dr. Caius, and Russian bass and former Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Grigory Soloviov stood out for a robust sound as Pistola on the male side.
JiYoung Lee (Fairy Queen) and dancers en travesti, Falstaff, Washington National Opera (photo by Karin Cooper)
Ironically, given my state of ambivalence about the singing, the production whipped together by Christian Räth was inventive, odd, and ultimately pleasing. The concept underscored the theatricality of the story, with all of the characters beginning the opera in modern dress on an empty stage of costume boxes and half-assembled set pieces, actors who go to great lengths in their attempts to deceive others. The sets, borrowed from a traditional production (designed by Hayden Griffin) seen at Covent Garden and elsewhere, are assembled gradually, appearing whole only in the two scenes of Falstaff's defeat, the Elizabethan house from which he is thrown into the Thames with the laundry and the park of the fairies with its enormous oak tree. The drag queen brides that surrounded Nannetta's Fairy Queen in that final scene coincided nicely with the following day's marriage equality march.
The Merry Wives as the cast of The View, Falstaff, Washington National Opera (photo by Karin Cooper)
Anne Midgette, Washington National Opera Performs Verdi's 'Falstaff' (Washington Post, October 12)
T. L. Ponick, Room to grow in 'Falstaff' (Washington Times, October 12)
Tim Smith, Fresh treatment of 'Falstaff' at Kennedy Center (Baltimore Sun, October 13)
Washington National Opera will present six more performance of Falstaff from this evening (October 12, 7 pm) through October 30 (7:30 pm), when it should be a distinctive Halloween ticket. Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Micaëla Oeste will get a crack at Nannetta in the last three performances, for which she is probably better suited vocally than Siegfried's Wood Bird.