Once the cast have settled into Stephen Medcalf's Falstaff, they may make a decent show of it, but on this first night it was a flat cocktail. Given Jonathan Veira's vocally plausible, visually glorious Fat Knight, it should have managed a few more sparkles. Rolling on the floor, kicking his legs in the air, then bouncing across the stage like a super-animated space-hopper, Veira brought such zest to his early encounters with Ford and Mistress Quickly that it looked as though he might save the show. But Verdi's opera isn't a one-man show, and neither Marie Walshe's Quickly nor Patrick Donnelly's Ford could strike the necessary counter-sparks.
The scenery was not encouraging. Veira muttered his curses at the 'brutish world' in front of what looked like a rank of rubbish chutes. Windsor Forest was bleak and unatmospheric. Veira's entry, antlers erect, was a fine moment, but before long the spirit seemed to go out of his performance. The outcome was a happy ending only in the barest formal sense.
Saturday's Don Giovanni, another Medcalf production, was livelier and much more dramatically rounded. The cobwebbed display cases, full of sinister, dimly lit relics, made a particularly striking background to the graveyard scene, and the moveable architectural pieces added a well-judged element of decayed grandeur.
William Dazeley sounded well and looked wonderful as Giovanni. He was well-matched by Ashley Thorburn's abject and sinister Leporello - more a reluctant familiar than a man-servant. Catherine Pierard's Donna Elvira wasn't strong throughout her vocal range, but her performance had warmth and appealing intensity. There have been more forceful Commendatores than Martin Robson - but by this stage the performances of Dazeley and Thorburn and the gripping realisation of Mozart's music by the ETO Orchestra under Nicholas Kok were more than enough to sustain intensity and drive.
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