Left – James Clayton. Photos – James Rogers
The pompous, rotund and repulsive figure of Falstaff makes for the quintessential anti-hero and it was refreshing to enjoy the comedy, romance and drama of Giuseppe Verdi’s final opera without an impending tragedy. The West Australia Opera’s solid performance was supported by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and led with relish by baritone James Clayton as Sir John Falstaff.
Based on Shakespeare’s Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff revolves around Sir John Falstaff and his deluded attempts to woo two wealthy wives simultaneously. Falstaff is the central figure but female characters are the driving force in this opera – teaming up to laugh about men, manipulate them and teach them a few lessons along the way. Elisa Wilson as Alice Ford, Katja Webb as Nannetta, Sarah-Janet Brittenden as Meg Page and Sally-Anne Russell as Mistress Quickly made a fantastic quartet, with lively interaction and harmonisation.
While the first scenes spent some time introducing plot and characters, Falstaff hit its stride after the first intermission, with the second act containing more movement and probably the most laughs of the three acts. Fat jokes abound and Verdi’s skilful use of counterpoint is a highlight of this opera. The combined melodies reached a joyous crescendo in the final scene, in which the chorus joined the soloists to agree with them that the world is but a joke.
The secondary storyline of Nannette and Fenton’s romance was an integral part of the opera’s charm and when the slapstick got all too much, their sincere love was a foil for Falstaff’s posturing and self-delusion. Samuel Sakker and Katja Webb are both young performers worth watching, with flawless vocals and a believable chemistry that made their scenes a delight.
As for set design, opera-goers expect impressive sets and Iain Aitken’s medieval scenic design, complemented by Nick Schlieper’s lighting design, certainly delivered. Aitken’s revolving stage meant a two-storey inn was seen from three different vantage points, with attention paid to detailing on windows and shutters. Tracy Grant’s costuming was also superb, with the details of 18th century and Falstaff’s delightful ensembles. The only amateurish element was Bardolph’s glaringly awful bald cap in the first scene. The closing scene with rolling mist and softly falling snow (with the exception of a couple of fast-falling chunks of snow that made the audience giggle) was beautiful and a nice change from the urban setting of the first two acts.
The West Australian Symphony Orchestra performed beautifully under the direction of conductor Simon Hewett, who led them expertly through a difficult score.
It was fantastic to see so much local talent and Falstaff made for an impressive and enjoyable finale for WA Opera’s 2011 season.
West Australian Opera presents
Conducted by Simon Hewett
Venue: His Majesty's Theatre, Perth
Dates/Times: 3, 5, 8, 10, 12 November, 2011 at 7.30pm
Bookings: BOCS 9484 1133 | www.bocsticketing.com.au