A La Scala Celebration of Sir John

SpainSpain G. Verdi, Falstaff: Soloists, Teatro alla Scala Orchestra & Chorus, Daniel Harding (conductor), Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 6.2.2013 (JMI)

New Production in coproduction with London Covent Garden and Toronto’s Canadian Opera

Direction: Robert Carsen
Sets: Paul Steinberg
Costumes: Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting: Robert Carsen and Peter Van Praet

Sir John Falstaff: Bryn Terfel
Alice Ford: Carmen Giannatasio
Mrs. Quickly: Marie-Nicole Lemieux
Ford: Massimo Cavalletti
Nannetta: Ekaterina Sadovnikova
Fenton: Antonio Poli
Meg Page: Manuela Custer
Doctor Cajus: Carlo Bosi
Bardolfo: Ricardo Botta
Pistola: Alessandro Guerzoni

Bryn Terfel as Falstaff in Robert Carsen's production at La Scala

Picture courtesy Teatro alla Scala, © Rudy Amisano

Attending a performance at La Scala is always a special occasion—still more so when it is a Verdi opera. Expectations are high on these occasions, and on this particular one they were met: Falstaff was musically magnificent, beautifully produced, and well cast, with an outstanding protagonist.

Robert Carsen’s production is one of those rare animals that combines aesthetic beauty with outstanding stage direction and complete fidelity to libretto and score. Carsen’s  moves the action to the 50s and, naturally, England. The first scene takes place in Sir John’s room at the “Giarrettiera Hotel”. Wooden walls, part of Paul Steinberg’s beautiful sets, and present throughout several scenes, give the stage of La Scala a particular British air. Mrs. Quickly’s visit takes place in the hotel lounge and it is pure theatre gold. We are introduced to the Merry Wives in a restaurant, nibbling and chatting. When Falstaff visits the home of Ford, he meets him in a spacious kitchen, fitted with Formica® furniture. The first scene of the third act takes place in a stable, where Falstaff’s companion and addressee of his comments is none other than a horse that pokes its head through a window. Least convincing is the grand finale in the park. Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costumes are elegant, colorful, and fun. Lighting is qute important and it is an excellent job.

Carson’s stage direction is a marvel of imagination, wit, and detail—obviously steeped in knowledge of the score and libretto. This is one of Robert Carsen’s finest works yet, which is tantamount to saying it is one of the best stage productions in years. Happily it was well matched by Daniel Harding’s conducting. A real feast for the ears, this was one of the finest Falstaffs in my recent memory, full of verve and humor, with the Teatro alla Scala Orchestra sounding like one of the purportedly best opera orchestras in the world should.

Bryn Terfel’s veteran Falstaff was a magnificent interpretation… he simply was Sir John Falstaff from first note to last. The total identification between character and the singer had to be witnessed to be believed. Since he is extremely well suited to the role vocally as well, one does not know whether to praise him more for his singing or his acting.

Barbara Frittoli was to sing Alice Ford but had to be replaced by Carmen Giannatasio, an attractive voiced lyric soprano with well suited to the character. She does everything right, but there is also an  impersonal touch to her voice that makes you forget her all too quickly. Marie-Nicole Lemieux was a very nicely sung, very funny Mrs. Quickly, and throwing herself into the role with physical, shapely gusto. It was obvious that she was enjoying as much as the audience.

Massimo Cavalletti, the evening’s reliable Ford, is not an outstanding singer, but he has an attractive voice and knows how to handle it. Antonio Poli (Fenton) has an appealing timbre, with some difficulties to go to the top and Ekaterina Sadovnikova (Nannetta) is an attractive light soprano, somewhat reduced in volume at the middle register but with easy top notes. None of the secondary roles failed to meet the standards set by their excellent surroundings and indeed Carlo Bosi as Dr.Cajus reminded me the unforgettable Piero de Palma. What a night!

José MªIrurzun