OPERA NEWS - Falstaff
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Monte-Carlo Opera

In Review Monte Carlo Falstaff hdl 219
Nicola Alaimo in the title role of Jean-Louis Grinda's production of Falstaff at Monte-Carlo Opera
© Alain Hanel-OMC 2019
In Review Monte Carlo Falstaff lg 219
Annunziata Vestri's Meg, Anna Maria Chiuri as Quickly,Vannina Santoni as Nanetta and Rachele Stanisci as Alice Ford
© Alain Hanel-OMC 2019

MANY ANNIVERSARIES WERE CELEBRATED in the Salle Garnier of the Monte-Carlo Opera on January 25. It was one hundred and forty years since this gilded jewel of an opera house opened, one hundred years since the company’s first performance of Verdi's Falstaff (conducted by none other than Victor de Sabata), and also the birthday of company director Jean-Louis Grinda. What more delightful way to celebrate than with Grinda’s own production of Verdi’s Falstaff, with Maurizio Benini conducting the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo? The gala audience was slow to respond at first, but by the end of the evening received the performance as a truly joyous event.

This was no traditional staging of the work. Shakespeare and Verdi met the fables of Jean de La Fontaine in Grinda’s farmyard setting of the opera. The cruelty of the story is muted by the production’s cast of feathered birds and other furry creatures, who play out the action against a set of giant story books, designed by Rudy Sabounghi, that create a magical opening into a projected forest scene for the final act. Inasmuch as Falstaff (and Boito and Verdi) conclude that life is a farce (“Tutto nel mondo è burla”), perhaps a farmyard world was a valid premise. The preening pride of Sir John and the clucking plotting of the wives was an inspired theatrical idea, but one that inevitably lessened the impact of what is a cruel human drama about an aging roué in hapless pursuit of women who take a cruel revenge on him. The acting of the entire cast, both furry and feathery, was frolicsome yet precise. The jerky chicken movements became a little tiresome, but ultimately did not detract from the lighthearted fun of the evening.

In Review Monte Carlo Falstaff hdl 2 219
© Alain Hanel-OMC 2019

The cast was led with incomparable charm by bearded baritone Nicola Alaimo, a sort of “Attila the Hen,” a knight who sang off the text with skill without dodging moments of vocal display, especially in his confrontation with the Ford of Jean-François Lapointe. The high climaxes of Ford’s jealousy suited Lapointe’s baritone better than his somewhat muted lower register. Young love was represented by the exquisite Nanetta of Vannina Santoni, who offered ideally floated high notes, and tenor Enea Scala, a manfully resonant Fenton. The gossipy collusion of the Merry Wives Alice, Meg and Quickly was amplified by their comically fidgety coquetry. Mezzo Anna Maria Chiuri was a classic mistress Quickly, digging into her resonant chest register with imperious charm, ably seconded by Meg and Alice. Mezzo Annunziata Vestri was a vivid feathery presence as Meg, but soprano Rachele Stanisci as Alice Ford sounded out of form on the first night, and lacked the necessary radiance of phrasing, especially in Act I.

Victor de Sabata—whose pirate Falstaff recordings from La Scala with Renata Tebaldi and Mariano Stabile are exceptional—might have been shocked by the floundering of Benini. The maestro’s reading of the score had a light-footed enthusiasm, and playing was generally excellent, but the tricky ensembles were only moderately well controlled, without the sharp Rossinian accuracy that the mature Verdi demands. —Stephen Mudge 

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