(L to R) Tracy Cox (Alice Ford), Mireille Asselin (Nannetta), Margaret Gawrysiak (Quickly),
and Carolyn Sproule (Meg) in Falstaff, Wolf Trap Opera, 2013 (photo by Carol Pratt)
Five years after Wolf Trap Opera presented Verdi's first and only other comedy, Un Giorno di Regno, the company let the other shoe drop. Their new production of Verdi's Falstaff is timed conveniently with the composer's bicentennial year, an event marked by most summer festivals this year. Heard on opening night yesterday, in the small theater at the Barns, it is a pleasing if not ideal version of this most masterful of Verdi's operas.
Verdi, Falstaff, T. Gobbi, E. Schwarzkopf, L. Alva, A. Moffo, Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus, H. von Karajan
Herbert von Karajan is to blame for me thinking that every Nannetta should sound like Anna Moffo, when in fact no one does, but Canadian soprano Mireille Asselin came admirably close, a slight tendency to sharpness aside, with a radiantly transparent sound as the Queen of the Fairies. Tenor Matthew Grills, a Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Winner last year, was her equal as Fenton, with a pretty sound and solid high notes, revealing no sound of strain, in the gorgeous aria that introduces the final scene. The supporting cast were also in good form -- the braying Caius of tenor Juan José de León, the bright-nosed, Scarecrow-like Bardolfo of Brenton Ryan, and the rotten-toothed Pistola of Aaron Sorenson -- rounding out a well-balanced ensemble that made the most of the exquisite and rollicking fugue with which Verdi adroitly ends the opera, the most savant of rib-jabs.
Anne Midgette, Wolf Trap Opera’s ‘Falstaff’ is intimate and memorable (Washington Post, April 12)
Washington National Opera (2009)
Munich Opera Festival (2009)
Santa Fe Opera (2008)
Mariinsky Opera (2007)
Tomer Zvulun's staging felt suitably Shakespearean, with Globe Theater-like wood set pieces that moved into two positions and were augmented by minimal props to create a sense of the scene (sets by Erhard Rom) and colorful, slightly overdone costumes (designed by Vita Tzykun). Zvulun shrewdly took advantage of the intimacy of the Barns in skillful acting direction, with many great laughs built into the opera through carefully timed and subtle looks and gestures. If the evening felt more like a scaled-down but top-notch collegiate production than the grand comic opera it should be, it was still a bubbly and fun evening in the theater.
This production continues through August 17, in the Barns at Wolf Trap.