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2001, ROH London, Falstaff

Falstaff

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Librettist: Arrigo Boito, after Shakespeare’s comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor
Venue and Dates: The Royal Opera House, London
12, 17, 22, 25, 27, 30 January 2001
Conductor: Bernard Haitink
Director: Jeremy Sutcliffe (Graham Vick)
Performers:
Sir John Falstaff : Paolo Gavanelli
Ford : Simon Keenlyside
Fenton : Steve Davislim
Dr Cajus :
Bardolfo : Peter Hoare
Pistola : Gwynne Howell
Alice Ford : Patricia Schuman
Nannetta : Sally Matthews
Mistress Quickly : Bernadette Manca di Nissa
Meg Page : Diana Montague
Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Notes:

Soundbites

Rupert Christiansen for The Telegraph, 17 January 2001

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml;jsessionid=5DEKRXKGNKT35QFIQMGCNAGAVCBQUJVC?xml=/arts/2001/01/17/btrupe17.xml&secureRefresh=true&_requestid=20655

“I can’t altogether reconcile myself to Graham Vick’s garish knockabout production of Verdi’s Falstaff – this is not a piece that needs priapic codpieces and pratfalls in order to make its comic mark – but the Royal Opera’s revival is musically distinguished and highly enjoyable.”

“Bernard Haitink will never be the sharpest or wittiest of Falstaff conductors, but his reading of the wonderful score is warm, relaxed and elegant. Outstanding among a generally excellent cast were Paolo Gavanelli as a slyly underplayed and beautifully sung Sir John, Simon Keenlyside as a sympathetic Ford, and a highly promising British soprano, Sally Matthews, making an auspicious Covent Garden debut as Nannetta. Matthews’s promise is immense – let’s hope it is nurtured wisely.”

Starting the centenary in style.

Anna Picard for The Independent, 21 January 2001

http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/music/reviews/article264287.ece

Covent Garden’s revival of Graham Vick’s robust, magical Falstaff makes an excellent start to this year’s Verdi centenary. There were some odd moments in Wednesday night’s performance – disjointed ensembles and awkward speed changes – but enough delight to compensate. Paolo Gavanelli fits Falstaff’s fat-suit more comfortably than Bryn Terfel and offsets his character’s bathos with a touching pathos. Simon Keenlyside’s Ford is the perfect uptight foil to Patricia Schuman’s easy Mrs Ford, and Diana Montague and Bernadette Manca di Nissa make a lively Meg and Quickly. Twenty-five-year-old soprano Sally Matthews stepped in to replace Jenny Grahn and conveyed Nannetta’s sweet nature without being winsome or irritating. It was a wonderful debut; her high notes had the purest shimmer and her acting was utterly convincing. Jeremy Sutcliffe’s direction is energetic to a fault, but if you have to choose between singing planks of wood and meretricious acrobatics, I’d take the latter any day. A thoroughly enjoyable evening where even the sets were (quite rightly) applauded.

Fun loving Falstaff hits right note
Reviewed by Tom Sutcliffe for Evening Standard (15 January 2001)

Paolo Gavanelli’s Falstaff totally transforms Graham Vick’s production which opened the “new” house a year ago, when it was greeted with a sigh of relief and disappointment.

Gavanelli is thoroughly at home and raring to get at it. He’s not had the makeover Bryn Terfel suffered either, with skimpy, vile wig and ill-fitting paunch. He wears the monstrous rubberised corpulence of his fake flab suit with pride, and even dances around semi-naked in it at the end. He looks fun and Santa-like, with looming eyebrows and popping eyes.

The role suits him ideally, and he’s experienced at it. He has a proper Italian baritone’s cutting focus and snarl in his voice lending a kind of epic majesty. He uses the fine Boito text superbly. He’s in touch with the audience. Above all he’s irrepressibly determined the whole company (and therefore all the theatre) will have a good time. He rises triumphantly above the inept follies of the laboured, charmless staging, its want of atmosphere, its coarseness. He even drags Bernard Haitink onstage for his curtain call, instead of leaving it to Patricia Schuman’s handsome Alice Ford. And Bernard was actually smiling, as the music-making had shown. The orchestra play the rapturous score captivatingly. Haitink gets tension and poise just right.

The cast makes a real ensemble. The ladies’ scenes run energetically, with Bernadette Manca di Nissa proving her worth again as Mistress Quickly. Once more, it’s the Italian tradition at work – her beefy lower register means “Rev-erenza” can really bump on the bottom. Miss Schuman’s alert, sparky Alice combines ideally with her companions. A pity those mad, comic-patter ensembles of the second scene are clumsily staged. Sally Matthews had a tough assignment, standing in for Jenny Grahn as Nannetta. Her Aussie Fenton (Steve Davislim) seems sexy and ripe, but doesn’t resonate freely and with ideal lyricism. Of the supporting roles Gwynne Howell as Pistol and (especially) Peter Hoare as Bardolph add to the urbanity and roguishness very nicely.

Simon Keenlyside is potentially an impressive Ford. Fury and wilfulness come easily to him. But he’s too careful, too neat and thin-lipped. It needs hot jealousy, not cold; more generous tone, less intellect. Nor has he at all the common touch of a Windsor tradesman with grand ambitions. Essentially everybody in this opera (almost) is looking for a good time. The production is craftily revived and subtly adjusted by Jeremy Sutcliffe

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