Opera Review: Falstaff | Theatre | Entertainment
Falstaff is a braggart, a bully, a lecherous womanizer and a man who values the happiness of his own stomach above all else.
The plot centres on his attempts to have his lusty way with two married women, Alice Ford and Meg Page, but having compared his identical love letters to both of them, they hatch a plot to humiliate him.
Meanwhile, another plot is afoot to discredit him by his former servants Bardolph and Pistol in alliance with Alice’s husband.
With the most hilarious scene involving Falstaff hiding in a laundry basket then being bundled out of a window and thrown in a river, it is all jolly fun, and even Falstaff himself eventually sees the funny side, as Ford himself is also tricked into allowing his daughter to marry the man of her dreams and all three women joyfully celebrate their triumphant Me-Too-ism.
The two main male roles, Falstaff and Ford, are beautifully played and sung by Bryn Terfel and Simon Keenlyside.
Terfel is a large man but for this role a padded costume makes him considerably larger but he managed very well to portray a proper fat man’s walk rather than an ungainly waddle.
His singing, comic timing and repertoire of telling expressions makes him perfect for this role, while Keenlyside, despite a much smaller role, took his share of the credit displaying excellent comic skills as well as a glorious vloice that seems to get stronger every time I hear him.
Marie McLaughlin and Ana Marie Martinez had great fun as Meg and Alice, but Marie-Nicole Lemieux stole the comedy limelight with a wonderfully irreverent portrayal of their go-between, Mistress Quickly.
The Royal Opera House Orchestra, as always, were excellent, though conductor Nicola Luisotti seemed occasionally to wobble a little in the task of keeping the singers and orchestra together, especially in the fast, almost patter-song passages.
Finally, a special word of praise is deserved by Rupert the horse, back in the role that he so memorably players when Robert Carsen’s production first appeared at Covent Garden six years ago.
On that occasion, his nonchalant hay-munching was a real scene-stealer as Falstaff sang on the other side of the stage.
This time, Terfel wandered over to involve Rupert in the scene with affectionate nuzzle-hugging. Rupert seemed happy to share the limelight. If there is an Bafta award for Best Horse in an Opera, Rupert should win at a canter.
This production will be broadcast on Radio 3 on September 22.
Tickets: 020 7304 4000 or roh.org.uk (last performance: July 21).