Falstaff, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

With a dive from the high springboard, the conductor Peter Robinson launched Verdi's final opera into brisk motion. He kept the momentum to the end. The orchestra loved it, the singers kept up, most of the time, even in the complex ensembles; the cross-rhythmed nonet that ends Act I scrambled and elbowed, like people pushing and shoving through a doorway.

In a radio interview, the director Dominic Hill said that they had "had a lot of fun" putting this together. The fun was obvious, and the audience enjoyed every bit of it. It all added up to another popular success for Scottish Opera this season (the other was Sir Thomas Allen's production of Il barbiere di Siviglia). But maybe it was a shame that, amid the excitement, you hardly noticed the little lyric moments that recall the arias and duets of earlier operas – Falstaff's touching memory of his boyhood ("Quand'ero paggio del Duca di Norfolk") swept past unnoticed.

The singer, the magisterial Peter Sidhom, could not be blamed for this, if blame is the right word. He was funny, pompous, lovable and dignified in turns, only occasionally giving rein to his majestic baritone. The women were strong, too. Maria Costanza Nocentini, as Alice Ford, sounded pearly and bel canto-ish, a serious artist condescending to enter the world of the absurd. As Mistress Page, Leah Marian Jones was more solid and steady. That fine artist Sally Burgess, singing Dame Quickly, was coping with a cold that took the focus out of her middle range, but she clowned endearingly and made the most of her Marlene Dietrich-like chest tone.

As Nannetta, Lucy Crowe was a dream of sweet lyric sound, musical and reliable in every respect, and her lover Fenton (Federico Lepre) fielded a rapturous Italianate tenor. And a special word must be said for William Dazeley as Ford. In his scene of jealousy in Act II, he generated a moment of tragic drama, the only one in the opera, singing with a real beauty of tone and gravity of manner.

The costumes had been updated to 1893, the year of the opera's premiere. This seemed to present no problems, and the top hats lent a certain gaiety. The sets (designed by Tom Piper), however, were plain and virtually abstract. They could be witty – the garden scene in Act I was decorated with topiary in the shapes of deer – but they let the opera down, regrettably, in the last scene, set in Windsor Forest.

There were a few proto-trees that did not reach the ground, but Herne's Oak seemed to be entirely missing. Worse, the haunting atmosphere of moonlight and woodland was entirely lost. The evening ended with the protagonists seated across the front of the stage, the chorus behind, like an oratorio. It was the dumbest idea in the whole show. But by that time, you could have forgiven anything.

To 24 May (0870 060 6647), then touring to 28 June (www.scottishopera.org.uk)

Comments