Falstaff, Royal Opera House, London
The Sixteen, Old Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich

It ain't over till the fat man sings ... and eats up all those roast chickens

Untroubled by heartburn or hangover, happy as a honeymooner in his wine-stained bedsheets, Verdi's last great operatic hero smiles serenely over a dozen grease-spattered room-service trolleys. Of the many types of love celebrated in Falstaff – from the nudging camaraderie of rogues to the fluttering cadences of female friendship, the vertigo of first love and the sturdy affection of marriage – none is as pass-ionate or as nuanced as that of Sir John for his stomach. Raconteur, philosopher and adventurer, he is a man made misty-eyed by the memory of a single salted anchovy.

What woman could hope to compete with an anchovy, six chickens, three turkeys and two pheasants? Food is everywhere in Robert Carsen's Royal Opera House production, which propels us into the greedy 1950s. Rationing has ended and new money has arrived in Windsor, eager to adopt old-money traditions. Downstairs from Falstaff's befouled bedroom, in the oak-panelled dining room of The Garter Inn, the dessert trolley groans under croquembouche and charlottes russes. Women sip Martinis while the gentlemen smoke behind their newspapers, and time stops as Nanetta (Amanda Forsythe) steals a kiss from Fenton (Joel Prieto). As the diners freeze, the chandeliers in Paul Steinberg's set are lowered and the stuffy yellow glow of electricity becomes the cool blue of moonlight.

Carsen is good on physical detail: the contrapuntal snap of handbag and powder compact as the merry wives conspire, the compulsive pilfering of cigarette boxes, tea towels, even underwear, by Alasdair Elliott's pink-nosed Bardolph and Lukas Jakobski's lumbering Pistol. There are some surprising touches: a hint of comfort- eating from Amanda Forsythe's Nanetta and a sexy comic turn from Marie-Nicole Lemieux's Mistress Quickly as a woman whose unfashionable curves promise unimaginable pleasures for the connoisseur. For a moment, I thought Ambrogio Maestri's insatiable Falstaff had met his match.

If Lemieux steals that scene, Rupert, a placid Irish draught horse, steals the Act III monologue, munching hay while Falstaff sings his paean to the restorative powers of hot wine. Hold on to the memory of the hat stand in the smoking room, for it's as close to the Herne Oak as you'll get. This production's concern is too much with the veneer of society and too little with fantasy. Moreover, where Richard Jones's Falstaff evoked the mores of late 1940s Britain, this production has a transatlantic twang. Alice's enormous fitted kitchen speaks of a wealth beyond the British middle class, while her prim, jealous husband (Dalibor Jenis) adopts the look-at-me costume of a Texan oil man for his honeytrap plot. If the point being made is that we are all in disguise – in hunting pink, tweed plus-fours, Stetson or Norman Hartnell gown – Verdi makes it more subtly in the closing fugue, which Carsen stages as a catwalk parade on a banqueting table.

Musically, standards are high. How could they not be with a score like this? The voices are well-blended, idiomatic, the diction crisp, the co-ordination between pit and stage occasionally fraught, occasionally brilliant. Falstaff himself is a miracle, now sweet, now salty, the most revealing lines of the libretto almost tossed into the air. Conductor Daniele Gatti conjures a scintillating performance from the orchestra, scissored with sforzandi from the strings, bathed in a sensual glow the staging cannot reproduce.

The strapline for The Sixteen's Choral Pilgrimage ("Inspiring music in glorious buildings") gives little impression of the intensity and ambition of Harry Christophers' programme of Flemish polyphony. Josquin's motet Praeter rerum seriem opens a door to a world view as fervent as that of an apocalyptic cult. This is polyphony at its most dangerous, the bitter black silt of the lower voices in motion, the high tenors and husky low sopranos proclaiming a mystery. The background is one of immense power, of bishops and princes, plague and earthquake, the last vividly painted in two movements from Brumel's 12-part Missa Et ecce terrae motus and in the madrigalian effects of Lassus's Timor et tremor.

 

'Falstaff' (020-7304 4000) to 30 May. 'Choral Pilgrimage' (01904 651485): St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, tomorrow, then touring

Critic's choice

English National Opera's production of Detlev Glanert's adaptation of Camus' Caligula opens (Fri) at the Coliseum, London, with Peter Coleman-Wright, above, as the depraved emperor. François-Xavier Roth conducts Daniel Hope and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No1 at St David's Hall, Cardiff (Fri) and Brangwyn Hall, Swansea (Sat).

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us