Tuesday, May 28

Opera North: Falstaff – The Lowry

The rainbow-striped curtain rises on Opera North’s sustainable take on Verdi’s final masterpiece, a comic opera drawn from Shakespeare in director Olivia Fuchs’ re-imagined riotous and rampant romp that serves up satire, slapstick, and stags along the way.

Roguish knight Falstaff (Henry Waddington) is down on his luck, residing in the car park of the Garter Inn and reliant upon its Host (Gordon D. Shaw) to keep him in good spirits of any kind! When he informs Bardolph (Colin Judson) and Pistol (Dean Robinson) that he intends to seduce Alice Ford (Kate Royal) and Meg Page (Helen Évora) they refuse to deliver his letters, so he throws them out, turning to his assistant Robin (Robert Gardiner) instead. When the letters are eventually received, Mistress Quigley (Louise Winter), Meg, Alice, and her daughter Nanetta (Isabelle Peters) laugh over their similarity and decide to get their revenge. Meanwhile, Ford (Richard Burkhard) arrives with the elderly Doctor Caius (Paul Nilon) to whom he proposes to marry his daughter, but she is more interested in a much younger beau, Fenton (Egor Zhuravskii). When Ford discovers Falstaff’s intentions towards his wife he decides to pay him a visit in disguise.

With the audience in on the plots, twists and turns unravel as Falstaff and Ford both get their comeuppance as the Merry Wives make it quite clear who’s calling the shots and the menfolk, in admitting to their pomposity and delusion, are finally able to laugh at themselves: all’s well that ends well, but that’s another story…

Whilst legendary conductor Toscanini thought Verdi’s final opera represented ‘the most successful marriage of words and music in the history of lyric theatre’, this production is very much played for laughs and whilst the music initially overcame the singing, the necessary balance was soon found as Garry Walker led the orchestra on its own merry dance through the energy and wicked humour of the score.

Photo: Richard H Smith

As the opening production of Opera North’s ‘Green Season’, the set, costumes, and props had been repurposed in Leslie Travers set design from Falstaff’s caravan through to an oak tree cleverly constructed from discarded antlers and quite befitting for the closing scene complete with lighting from Paule Constable and Ben Pickersgill, and an array of outfits from Gabrielle Dalton that captured the 1980’s theme of power suits and tennis clubs.

The cast performed well and were perhaps at their best as an ensemble, with the support of the Chorus of Opera North, none more so than on the occasions they punctured the fourth wall with the close of Act Two quite inspired. The choice of Amanda Holden’s translated English libretto was unexplained and whilst capturing the humour of the original, lacked at times the necessary rhythm and flow to match the music and which affected some of the vocal delivery.

Waddington is in his element and enjoying every moment as much if not more than the audience, with powerful singing and superb comic timing; Royal grows into her role and by the final frenetic scenes is very much his match. Zhuravskii and Peters delight as love’s young dream, with both seizing their moments to shine brightly in Act Three: ones to watch. A special mention for Nilon who breathed new comic life into Doctor Caius and the production was all the better for it.

Falstaff is one of three productions touring this season for Opera North, further details at https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on

The Lowry is a theatre and gallery complex at Salford Quays with a wide creative offering, further details https://thelowry.com/whats-on/

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 15th November 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.