Paris premiered Dominique Pitoiset’s effort
in 1999, and comparisons are apt in the two approaches to this adaptation of
Shakespeare’s whimsical The Merry Wives of Windsor. While Carsen’s
Windsor is that of a seedy, ration-starved 1950s Britain, Pitoiset’s
is set a generation earlier, in a late Edwardian early 1900s. Of course it
predated the wildly popular television program Downton Abbey, but one
can grasp avant la lettre the same comments on traditional elites
confronted with the ugly underbelly of modernity. The Garter Inn, the lodging
where Falstaff’s shrunken budget has outworn his welcome, is a frowzy
establishment set between an automobile garage that advertises daily motor
tours to Royal Park and the Herne Oak (the setting of Act III) and a steam
laundry business called “Quickly’s,” after the go-between servant character who
carries messages between Falstaff and the ladies he admires. Even an ignoble
knight placed in these brick-built industrial surroundings can still draw the
sympathy and derision with which Verdi endowed him in equal measure. Only the
third act lacked insight. Rather than hide the walls, they are darkened
slightly to accommodate a projection of the Herne Oak. Surely there could have
been a more effective change of scene.
Today the opera world has two reigning Falstaffs: Ambrogio Maestri, who sang
in this production, and Bryn Terfel, with whom Maestri frequently alternates
(as he did in La Scala’s outing of the Carsen production earlier this year).
Maestri’s strong baritone makes him a fine counterpart, and perhaps a more
lyrical and Italianate one. But he lacks the warm resonances and expansiveness
of character that Terfel can bring to role. Still, his performance as the fat
knight offered no cause for complaint and radiated devilishly good humor and
the necessary hints of beguiling charm.
A fine supporting cast proved what a great ensemble piece this can be.
Svetla Vassileva’s Alice Ford offered a comforting portrayal of the woman who
can outwit her seducer while still arranging her daughter’s marriage to the
right man. Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s attractive lower tones proved that she
deserves her frequent casting in the role of Mistress Quickly. The role of
Ford, Alice’s outraged husband, fell to the stentorian Artur Rucinski. And what
a delight it was to hear the attractive young Russian soprano Elena Tsallagova
float exquisite piano high notes in the role of the lovesick Nanetta. The
promising lyric tenor Paolo Fanale paired well with her. Daniel Oren gave a
reasonable but not truly incisive reading of the score.
Paul du Quenoy
image_description=Opera National de Paris/Eric Mahoudeau.
product_title=Robert Carsen’s Falstaff, Paris
product_by=A review by Paul du Quenoy
product_id=Above photo by Opera National de Paris/Eric Mahoudeau