Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Fulham Opera: Verdi’s Falstaff

[Left to Right: Oliver Gibbs, Catherine Rogers and Keel Watson]
There’s much to enjoy about Falstaff; the final opera composed by Verdi. It refuted many of his contemporaries including Rossini and proved that he could write comedy operas just as well as his great tragic operas like La Traviata.

Loosely based on Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor, Verdi and his librettist Arrigo Boito produced a witty and vivacious opera that has charmed audiences since its premier in 1893.

Now the little opera company Fulham Opera have stepped in and created a larger-than-life production of Falstaff at their resident St John’s Church.

Given the success of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, earlier this year, it is to no surprise the company’s musical director Ben Woodward has brought a blizzard of Verdi’s mesmerising score into the medium sized hall swimmingly.

With a reduced orchestra, of double basses, strings and sassy woodwinds, on the left, the opera opens up with the church altar as a pub, with a beer dispenser, and our grumpy Falstaff dressed in a tracksuit shouting out, ‘Musica!’ to the orchestra. Then, the grand music and silliness begins.

Director Daisy Evans sets the opera in contemporary East London where sports gear, chunky earrings and caked on make-up co-exist.

The opera follows Falstaff plotting and scheming to pay off his dues by seducing the rich wives Alice (Catherine Rogers) and Meg (Jemma Brown). He produces duplicate love letters, on tissue, which he unhygienically coughs and blows his nose on.

Yet these women are smart and well aware of Falstaff conniving plans that they decide to manipulate and exploit Falstaff with their own little game.

As a consequence, Alice’s husband Ford (Oliver Gibbs) suffers the brute of misplaced jealousy and designs a scheme of his own. Nonetheless it’s all done in good humour and everyone lives happily ever after.
[Left to Right: Mrs. Quickly (Lindsay Bramley), Meg (Jemma Brown), Nannetta (Caroline Kennedy) & Alice (Catherine Rogers)
The marvellous singing cannot go unmentioned. Keel Watson is our scary, farcical and arrogant Falstaff and he does an excellent job of singing like it. Having sung at world concerts, his experience flows and weaves between the most sweet and most heated arias.

Also having witnessed Gibbs as the sorrowful Rigoletto with Opera Loki, again, he strikes a heart’s chord even if there’s no deeper tragedy in the opera. His arias show Ford’s naïve jealously and loving loyalty to Alice which is exhibiting in Verdi’s great music.

Hot pink booby top wearing Alice is excitingly sung by Rogers. She shows off her soaring voice while Perth born Roberto Abate’s manages to impress with his smooth tenor timber as the smitten lover boy Fenton. And Caroline Kennedy as the impish Nanneta sang high notes in an utterly butterly manner.

The build up of the real farce, where Nannetta and Fenton are mistaken for Falstaff as he hides away in a pile of laundry, is rather messy, but gives the audience the giggle expected from the opera.

The music and cast were irresistible and engaging. The musicians’ talents and vocal tenacity of its singers cannot go unquestioned. Bizarrely funny and something Shakespeare would have laughed about too.

This production as ended but is currently showing in a brand new location for Grimeborn's 2015 Programme until the 22nd August! Click here for more details and to purchase tickets

This review was first published in Flock To The Crown.