Verdi’s Falstaff at full throttle, conveyed with consummate Terfel ease at the Royal Opera House
12 July, 2018 — By Sebastian Taylor
Bryn Terfel as Falstaff and Ana Maria Martinez as Mistress Quickly. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Bryn Terfel is a joy to behold, utterly convincing in the title role of Verdi’s Falstaff back at the Royal Opera House. Indeed, it’s hard to decide which of his various Falstaff portrayals is best.
He’s cloyingly mawkish, nursing a dreadful hangover in the opening scene, dressed in stained one-piece jim jams, examining the bill for the previous night’s revelries with Pistol and Bardolph. Next, he’s dressed in swanky tweeds, breeches and all, plotting amorous advances on Alice and Meg.
Falstaff (Bryn Terfel) and Ford (Simon Keenlyside). Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Then, he’s in a wonderful red morning suit in Alice’s kitchen before reverting to the one-piece jim jams for the final scenes. It’s all done with consummate Terfel ease, full-throttle vocal chords at one time, delicate pizzicato-like phrasing at the next.
The production is a revival of Robert Carson’s 2012 staging relocated from Elizabethan times to the 1950s.
Falstaff (Bryn Terfel) in jim jams. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Early scenes work well in a gentlemen’s Pall Mall Club, firstly in its bedroom, then in the reading room before a delightful act in a Lyons Cornerhouse tearoom.
The pièce de résistance is in Alice’s Formica-clad kitchen where Falstaff is crammed into a giant laundry basket to hide from Alice’s fuming husband. Then, there’s a splendid scene where Falstaff moans about his fate in company with a scene-stealing live horse munching at a hay-bag.
Not so good are the final scenes set the forest at all-black dead of night much in contrast with Verdi’s bright and light music.
Other singers deliver, notably Simon Keenlyside as Alice’s husband Ford; Puerto Rican soprano Ana María Martínez as Alice; and French-Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Mistress Quickly.
Conductor Nicola Luisotto makes the very best of Verdi’s glorious score of almost seamless musical continuity.
• Verdi’s Falstaff is at the Royal Opera House till Saturday July 21, 020 7304 4000, www.roh.org.uk