Wednesday, 27 June 2018

REVIEW: Falstaff at Garsington Opera

Garsington Opera has been in its new home on the Paul Getty estate since 2011 and it is a perfect setting for a summer opera experience. The purpose built theatre sits on top of a gently sloping meadow lined on one side by picnic tents and on the other by a lake. The deer graze on the other side of the lake during the opera season. 

The four opera season runs from the end of May to end of July each season and you need to book early to get a ticket. This year third up in the season is Giuseppe Verdi's Falstaff written in 1883 and based on the plot and characters of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor. It is a joyous melodramatic romp.

Set in a Pollock style Victorian Toy theatre with a false proscenium arch, heavily raked stage and MDF cut out chandeliers, station signs, a train and trees. The designer, Giles Cadle and director Bruno Ravella have great fun with resetting the play in Victorian Windsor and the characterisations. The stage is backed by beautiful period style paintings of Windsor and the station. We have Eton boys, a Victorian explorer in pith helmet, Mistress Quickly dressed like Queen Victoria and Mr Ford looking like Gene Wilder in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Falstaff, the abused anti hero of the story, is dressed mostly as a kilted Scottish soldier, straight out of Carry on up the Khyber. When he needs another drink in the opening scene he stamps the floor and literally a stage-hand appears through the floor boards with another bottle. The visual and physical humour is sustained throughout with the final scene in Act 1 being a fast paced farce and the last in Act 2 a manic midnight May Day forest escapade.

The production is inevitably dominated by Henry Waddington's powerful bass-baritone voice as Falstaff at the centre of every scene but Richard Burkhard's baritone Ford provides a strong love rival and his reactions and posturing are equally funny. They are both in love with the delightful Mary Dunleavy's soprano Alice Ford who is actually in control of the action and the architect of Falstaff downfall. Yvonne Howard’s mezzo-soprano Mistress Quickly is the go between who tricks Falstaff into successive traps. They are well supported by a strong cast and chorus and Richard Farnes who conducts the wonderful Philharmonia Orchestra. Though sung in Italian with English subtitles, the action is so fast and furious that one stops reading the words above and instead revels in the delightful pictures created and rich sounds.

The overall effect is a humorous light accessible opera which provides a very entertaining evening and a delight for those new to Opera.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Middle Stalls | Price of Ticket: £165
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