No matter how many times one hears this marvellous score, one cannot fail to be amazed by the ingenuity, sparkle, wit and invention that Verdi lavished on the music of his last opera. Under the conductor Peter Robinson, the performance of this new Scottish Opera production sparkled from start to finish, and the orchestra obviously enjoyed playing such gorgeous music. Musically, too, onstage there was one of the most talented casts assembled by Scottish Opera for many a day.
The merry wives were a delight, with Leah-Marian Jones and Lucy Crowe giving strong vocal performances, topped by the ravishing soprano voice of Maria Costanza Nocentini, who captured every vocal nuance of Alice Ford's impish character. Only Sally Burgess's Dame Quickly sounded out of sorts, as if plagued by a severe cold, but her characterisation was flawless. William Dazeley, playing Ford, and Federico Lepre as Fenton, were decent enough, but both were underpowered. Dazeley, in particular, was often swamped by the orchestra (at least from my seat in the stalls), especially at the climax to his "Jealousy" aria.
Peter Sidhom's Sir John Falstaff was one of those rare natural performances, every gesture perfectly timed and executed and at no times going over the top to achieve a cheap laugh. Vocally, he was certainly up to the mark, perhaps singing slightly tentatively at the beginning of the evening, being careful to reach and produce all his notes, but quickly settling in to give a rounded and complete vocal performance. Sidhom always gives full value for money and it is a pleasure to see him enjoying such a marvellous comic role.
What of Dominic Hill's production? It started well, with clever, taut groupings and a good pace, but it seemed to run out of steam, and his final fugue was a director's cop-out, turning the wonderful finale into a choral presentation sung directly and statically to the audience. He certainly wasn't helped by Tom Piper's bland, boring set and costume design. Never has Windsor town and the Garter Inn looked so drab – in beige, brown, black and grey – and even Sir John's wooing outfit made little impact.
The final scene in the wood took place in a black box, with suspended trees – no oak in sight – and dampened the exhilarating finale of what is one of the most lively of all operas. It's not too late to add some colour; then this Falstaff could become quite an important landmark in Scottish Opera's gradual resurgence.
Touring to 28 Jun (www.scottishopera.org.uk)
Walter Paul, self-employed production director, Glasgow
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