Falstaff Scores Not at the Teatro Farnese di Parma

ItalyItaly G. Verdi. Falstaff: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus Teatro Regio di Parma, Andrea Battistoni (conductor), Teatro Farnese di Parma. 10.10.2011 (JMI)

New production

Direction: Stephen Medcalf
Sets and Costumes: Jamie Vartan
Lighting: Simon Corder

Sir John Falstaff: Ambrogio Maestri
Alice Ford: Svetla Vassileva
Mrs. Quickly: Romina Tomasoni
Ford: Luca Salsi
Nanetta: Barbara Bargnesi
Fenton: Antonio Gandía
Meg Page: Daniela Pini
Dr.Cajus: Luca Casalin
Bardolfo: Patrizio Saudelli
Pistola:Mattia Denti

Photo courtesy Teatro Regio di Parma, © Roberto Ricci


This premiere of Falstaff marks the end of my stay in Parma this year. It wasn’t a case of saving-the-best-for-last, largely due to the problems of successfully performing opera in the acoustics of the magnificent yet fatally flawed Teatro Farnese. As I wrote on the occasion of Verdi’s Requiem (read S&H review), this is a very beautiful theater that is worth visiting, but not appropriate for a staged performances. The acoustics leave much to be desired and the view from the back stalls is so restricted that many spectators of these chairs moved to the stands at the first interval, taking advantage of the many empty seats available.

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Parma’s Verdi Festival staged a new production by Stephen Medcalf whose work I have not found particularly exciting, an opinion that this direction did not change. A new production of Falstaff that only repeats on stage what we have seen so many times before is hardly justified. The sets are simple with a wood panel enclosing the stage with some painted motives on Windsor. The stage is filled with a large bed at in the Garter Inn, a large laundry basket and some folding screens plus a module with stairs in Ford’s house, and finally, a large oak in the last act. Been there, seen that, nothing new. The Shakespeare period costumes are attractive; mainly those of the ladies. The same goes for the stage direction which differs only from the many other traditional productions in that Sir John’s page is suited with full armor.

Falstaff is also one of the most difficult operas to conduct. Given that, the very young (24) Andrea Battistoni very favorably impressed me with his maturity, assuredness, and energy. There was, as would be expected, plenty room for improvement, but there were plenty interesting moments and that can be attributed to Battistoni. With the caveat of the sub-par acoustic, he got an excellent performance from the Orchestra of Teatro Regio, where he is the new principal guest conductor. He never covered the singers, which would have been all-too easy in the circumstances—a most promising young conductor, indeed.

The casting does not seem to have taken into account the difficulties the singers face at the Teatro Farnese all singers were affected to some extent, some of them were almost inaudible (without being drowned out). A pity.

Ambrogio Maestri, a veteran Falstaff, was definitely the best cast and suffered least from the poor acoustics. He has Sir John internalized and one of the best interpreters of the role today. Bulgarian soprano Svetla Vassileva was Alice Ford, whose main appeal was the figure she cut on stage. Vocally, she has a nice top register but her middle notes can be problematic and the low notes ones were inaudible.

Mezzo-soprano Romina Tomasoni was miscast as Mrs. Quickly, lacking depth in “Reverenza” or “Povera Povera”. Baritone Luca Salsi was a correct Ford, though lacking proper vocal power for this character. The couple of youngsters made a good impression. The young soprano Barbara Bargenesi (22) was a good Nanetta, with a smallish, pleasant voice that I should love to hear in more favorable conditions. Antonio Gandía sang Fenton with gusto and a pleasant voice and he was a remarkable interpreter. The secondary characters also had difficulties and didn’t stand out.

José M. Irurzun