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A CurtainUp  Berkshire Opera Review
Verdi's Falstaff

Dreams don't always materialize overnight. Take Seiji Ozawa's dream of conducting Verdi's only comic opera with a student cast. It's a dream born at the inception of the conductor's career (the 1970s) when Falstaff was the opera challenge for conductors. The dream has finally come to fruition with four sold out performances held from July 28-31 at Tanglewood's Concert Hall. In addition to alternating, two casts of singers (an established practice with Tanglewood's opera productions), this dream-come-true Falstaff also featured two orchestras (one for Acts One and the second for Acts Two and Three).

Maestro Ozawa, conducting without a score, and director David Kneuss created an evening that captured the style that makes this Verdi opera different from his more emotional works. The composer's lush romanticism is there, but so is the frothiness that goes with the plot of the play that Shakespeare himself is said to have disdained. It revolves around t Sir John Falstaff, the gluttonous and mercenary "fat knight" who sends identical love letters to Mistress Ford and Mistres Page. Aided by Mrs. Ford's daughter Nanetta, whose own romance provides a romantic subplot, and Dame Quickly, Falstaff winds up dumped into a laundry basket and into the Thames. But it takes another trap, this one taking him to Windsor Forest at midnight, to give the Knight his final comeuppance and bring Nanetta's romance to a happy conclusion.

The singers at the Sunday performance I attended sang superbly and performed with verve. From word of mouth, it seems that the other cast was equally outstanding. Instead of singling out anyone specifically, it's fair to say that with talented performers like these committing themselves to the art of the opera, it's understandable why it's the fastest growing of the performing arts.

John Michael Deegan and Sarah G. Conly imaginatively staged Falstaff's mix of parody, slapstick and bouncy music. Things begin with a set that looks like no set at all -- an almost bare platform, some scaffolding and a backdrop that's still being painted. What we have is a play within a play, with the singers dressed in ordinary street clothes. Gradually, costumes are donned, and more story specific settings are added -- the last a bang-up Midsummer Night's Dreamlike finale during which Falstaff is taught his final lesson and everybody lustily joins in for the happy ending. The tree that drops down for the woodsy frolic won a big round of applause. As nice as it was to have a fully staged opera instead of a concert version, in the final analysis what this Fallstaff was all about was the music. Thus the audience reserved most of its applause for such well-deserved standouts as Ford's "E sogno? O realtÓ?" . . . Fenton's "Dal labbro il canto estasiato vola", Nannetta's "Sul fil d'un soffio etesio" and, of course, the rousing final chorus, "Tutto nel mondo e buria".

.Vocal coach Dennis Helmrich's concise and wittily Shakespearean super titles (one large screen at the top of the stage, and two smaller screens at either side) added immeasurably to this memorably entertaining evening. Hopefully, at least one of these performances was video taped so when Seiji Ozawa leaves the BSO two years hence and these talented musicians have (also hopefully) firmly established themselves in musical careers, there will be an additional record of this long in the making musical dream.

PAST REVIEWS OF OPERAS AT TANGLEWOOD
Les Mamelles de Tirésias
Rossi's L'Orfeo

FALSTAFF Music by Giuseppe Verdi; Libretto bretto by Arrigo Borito
Derived from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor and from passages of Henry IV relating to Falstaff's personality
Conductor: Seiji Ozawa
Director: DavidKneuss
Design: John Michael Deegan, Saragh G.Conley

Cast
Featuring Tanglewood Music Center Vocal Fellows, 2Tanglewood Music Center and Tanglewood Festival Chorus, John Oliver Conducting
(Left = Performer for Sunday, July 30 performance and July 28 Dress Rehearsal
Right =Performer for July 31 performance and , at July 29 Dress Rehearsal
Middle = Character played)
Scott Bearden     Sir John Falstaff     Daesan No
Hyung Yun     Ford    James Westman William Ferguson     Fenton     Bryon Grohman
John Zuckerman     Dr. Caius    Andrew Lepri Meyer
Enrique Abdala    Bardolfo     Jason Ferrante
Mark Uhlemann     Pistola    Alain Coulombe
Janna Baty     Alice Ford     Andrea Trebnick
Sharla Nafziger    Nannetta>    Tamara Hummel
Makiko Nammi    Mistress Quickly    Mary Hughes
Allyson McHardy     Meg Page     Marie Anne Kowan
Jonathan West Innkeeper     Mr. Page, Stage Manager    Jonathan West
Kyle Barry Robin    Kyle Barry
Townsfolk: Tanglewood Festival Chorus, John Oliver, conductor
Children: Courtney Besse, Mackenzie Henry, Bryan Murphy, Adam Stanton, Cooper Stanton, Jahna Stanton, Tyler Stanton, and Simon Pringle Wallace
Super titles: Denis Helmrich
Running time: 2 hours and 50 minutes,including 2 intermissions


By Elyse Sommer based on 7/30/2000 performance



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