Falstaff Criticism – Pranks and Pathos as Scottish Opera’s Verdi Shines | Opera
SThe Scottish Opera’s staging of La Bohème in the parking lot of its production studios was an artistic highlight in last year’s lockdown slump. Its successor – a new production of Verdi’s Falstaff by Sir David McVicar – is both more ambitious and more conventional. Gone is the set of shipping containers and in its place proper staging, reflecting the fact that the production will also be staged inside the Edinburgh International Festival next month.
McVicar’s setting for Verdi’s Shakespearean comedy is also Shakespeare’s world. Its economical setting is an Elizabethan theater stage, a simple wooden structure with stairs and a gallery above with the action moving between the two levels. Lorna Price’s lavish costumes are the same from the era, all buckled shoes, shimmering fabrics and jewel tones. As a backdrop, the wooded grove adjacent to the Scottish Opera studio takes on its full meaning, especially as the setting for the final scene in Windsor Park.
Doning the splendid prosthetic belly of the title role is Roland Wood, who has been somewhat of a Scottish opera staunch supporter in recent years. His Falstaff, while undeniably larger than life, is more than just a caricature. To all the comedy there is also the pathos, the sense of a man who knows his glory days are over, but too conceited to fully accept the present reality.
Falstaff is above all an ensemble comedy and the Scottish Opera has assembled a cast to do it justice; Elizabeth Llewellyn (Alice Ford), Sioned Gwen Davies (Meg Page) and Louise Winter (Mistress Quickly) the quick-witted trio of women who outsmart the rather sluggish men, Ford of Phillip Rhodes and Dr Caius of Aled Hall. Verdi’s late comedy is also a triumph of young love over experience, and here Gemma Summerfield and Elgan Llyr Thomas give a particularly glowing account of young lovers Nannetta and Fenton. McVicar has fun with the drunken country folk, Pistol (Alastair Miles) and in particular the jolly Scottish Bardolph by Jamie MacDougall.
Outdoors, production logistics are complex. The Scottish Opera Orchestra is located in the production hangar at the side of the stage, the sound delivered to the actors and the audience via amplification, the singers amplified in the same way for the audience. During the opening night, the whole and in particular the balance were sometimes problematic. Yet regardless of the challenges, conductor Stuart Stratford never allowed the lively energy of the music to falter, with the notoriously delicate runaway finale – the stumbling block for many performances – a particular triumph. .