FALSTAFF - Berkshire Opera Festival
Who would have thought that another production of Berkshire Opera Festival could charm and delight more than its fabulous “Don Pasquale” of the pre-pandemic summer of 2019? Well, with its even-more-fabulous “Falstaff”, BOF has done just that: 9 world-class principals; a spirited chorus of 16; a grand, 30 piece orchestra; and non-stop, unified comedic interpretation. The two year wait was worth it.
The sturdy Italian classic (first performed in 1893) is one of two of Verdi’s comedies and his last opera (written at the age of 80). Based mostly on Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor”, “Falstaff” has a couple of subplots that thread through this 2:40 production, but basically tells the tale of a big, fat buffoon of a nobleman, Sir John Falstaff, whose arrogance and ego delusionally lead him to scheme for the affections of two married Windsor wives, Mrs Alice Ford and Mrs Meg Page. Alice particularly is onto Falstaff’s game and engages not only Meg and her ladyfriends but also unsuspecting husbands and townfolk to humiliate him publicly.
The principal singers are uniformly talented, but the standouts are Romanian-born baritone Sebastian Catana who plays the title role with just the right degree of self deprecation and not too much pathos. Soprano Tamara Wilson plays Alice Ford with superb timing; her facial expressions are worth the price of admission alone.
The orchestra is enthusiastically conducted by BOF artistic director and co-founder Brian Garman; it’s fun to watch him silently mouth the lyrics as he conducts from a “pit” created at the pit-less Mahaiwe (the first three rows of seats were removed especially for this production). The orchestra is big, bright and just-the-right bold, perfectly appropriate for what Toscanini regarded as Verdi’s most versatile score. Distinctively, “Falstaff” has no overture and really no arias. It’s action from the get-go, and director Joshua Major’s staging matches perfectly. Elizabethan costumes by Charles Caine sport colorful flair; the wittiest is Falstaff’s pastel-accented foppish finery that he shows up in to seduce Alice.
Stephen Dobay’s set design has a practical, simple elegance. His set for the moonlit woodland scene where Alice and Windsor townfolk are costumed as gobelins and fairies to trick Falstaff contributes to how this “Falstaff '' emerges as a magical parable. Falstaff admits that he’s a joker, as is everyone else. The show’s exuberant fugue celebrates that we are, too. With it’s “Falstaff”, BOF spreads rapture around.