Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now

August 05, 2008

Kelley O'Connor, Claire Rutter, and Nancy Maultsby see what's in the hamper
Photo : Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera 2008

Most great operas are great because they are either incredibly fragile or unimaginably sturdy. On the one hand, an opera can be so involved and demanding in so many ways that it can be nearly impossible to perform without the failure of some key element. Part of the charm here is searching for perfection that may never be reachable like, say, with Tristan. Then, on the other hand, there is another group of great operas, those that seem to stand up marvelously no matter what you do to them. Below-average singing? No matter. Dull, uninspired staging? Whatever. Sloppy orchestra? A nuisance. While many of these seemingly impervious works belong to Mozart, Verdi’s Falstaff is another. It is a construction so well written, so tightly constructed, it’s charming virtually whatever happens to it.

And so it goes here in the desert, where I started my trip to this year’s Santa Fe Opera season with Verdi’s final opera in what is a solid and thoroughly enjoyable evening. In fact it’s more a pleasure than it should be considering that it does suffer from probably the most predictable staging under director Kevin Newbury. It’s stuffed with every crowd pleasing comedic trope you can think of from impish doe-eyed kids to spit takes. But, it’s still funny which is a testament to Verdi, librettist Boito and I suppose Shakespeare as well if one must drag his name into everything. I suppose I should give some credit to the Falstaff himself, Anthony Michaels-Moore, who is taking over for Laurent Naouri in the final three weeks of the run. Michaels-Moore was superb in the Met's Peter Grimes earlier this year and he is adequately buffoonish without overplaying his hand and vocally consistent. Claire Rutter’s Alice Ford was also very good and provided the other rock-solid vocal pillar in this construction. The always excellent Kelly O’Connor wasn’t given enough to do as Meg Page, but she worked well with Rutter and Nancy Maultsby’s Mistress Quickly. Not all was great in the vocal area however. The Nannetta, played by Laura Giordano, and Fenton, played by Norman Reinhardt, both quickly unraveled in the final scene, just when they both finally had something to do.

Still, on balance, it was entirely enjoyable. The conductor, Paolo Arrivabeni, in his U.S. debut in these performances, led the orchestra in a good if not especially nuanced performance. Of course this is all outdoors so nuance can sometimes get lost. So what is called for is something sturdy that can withstand the monsoonal thunderstorms here at night like the Santa Fe Opera amphitheater itself. Falstaff, an opera that has seen several prior outings here in New Mexico, continues to be just the ticket.



Too bad about the Nanetta and Fenton; such lovely parts, usually a bit undercast. But I agree with you that Falstaff is almost completely bulletproof. I would think the thing that might drag it down would be eccentric conducting. You can't imagine Reginald Goodall doing well with (or by) Falstaff, right?
You've got a point there. But given that it is a comedy, I don't think there are too many conductors who would be willing to take it that seriously. But you never can tell, can you?
Heheh, probably not! But Goodall did record Meistersinger, to the extent that it's a comedy. I find the idea a little scary.
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