|Heather Antonissen, David Morrow and Marie Masters (photo by Brian Long)
The film Amadeus would lead one to believe that Salieri killed Mozart. This is a lie. But it is the truth that we nearly died laughing over his opera Falstaff as presented by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble. The libretto by Carlo Prospero Defranceschi departs from Shakespeare's comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor in many ways but it does preserve the theme of some high-spirited women collaborating to puncture the pride of the womanizing fat guy. Furthermore, the lively and tuneful music serves to advance the plot.
Readers may have observed how contemptuous we are of "concept" and updating the classics; in this case we applauded it. First of all, this is not a beloved classic that is rooted in time and place; it comes without baggage. Secondly, it has no references to period and the only reference to place is Windsor. Surely there are towns in the USA named Windsor.
Stage director Louisa Proske has chosen to set the opera about a half-century ago, which is nearly as remote as the late 18th c. but a lot funnier--a time when husbands were still possessive and when people could still afford servants. Stewart Kramer's excellent titles were created by Artistic Director Christopher Fecteau, Karen Rich and J. Spence. The translation from the Italian employed modern American slang without trashing the original language.
Maestro Fecteau had his work cut out for him, lacking a decent manuscript, but the end result was some mighty gorgeous music not very different from Mozart's. With only eleven members of the Festival Orchestra occupying stage left and Maestro Fecteau conducting from the harpsichord, nothing seemed missing. We particularly enjoyed the frothily charming overture and Samuel Marquez' clarinet solo.
Soprano Marie Masters (a winner of the Osgood/Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble Prize) brought a bright resonant sound to the role of Mrs. Ford. Her intonation was as secure as her acting. In this opera, Mrs. Ford is a bit naughty, or rather, mischievous. She is curvy and dresses provocatively; no wonder Mr. Ford (tenor Erik Bagger) is suspicious. His friends try to talk him out of his jealousy but he is relentless.
As Mrs. Ford's friend, the excellent Heather Antonissen sang in perfect harmony in her duets with Ms. Masters. Her voice has the sparkle of a soprano and the weight of a mezzo. Her character, Mrs. Slender, mostly supports Mrs. Ford's plot to trap Falstaff. She has a very funny moment with a pair of floral shears in her hand. Use your imagination! Her husband was portrayed by baritone Scott Lindroth who was one of the finest male voices onstage; he sang with beautiful tone and phrasing. His second act aria was superb.
Soprano Joanie Brittingham was a sprightly Betty, servant in the Ford household. Her major moments came in the second act when she imitated Falstaff trying to emerge from the ditch into which he was thrown with the laundry.
Bass-baritone Jonathan Dauermann, sporting a hippie wig, created the character of Bardolfo as an overworked and somnolent fellow.
As the obnoxious, corpulent and bibulous Falstaff, bass David Morrow created a character that was self-important and self-deluding. He imagines that he is irresistible to women and means to extract money from them. In the opening ensemble, he has crashed a party and is making a complete pest of himself.
The ladies spend the entire opera making a fool of him. But Mr. Ford also suffers the indignity of being proven wrong. It's a rather feminist opera and way ahead of its time.
Sets were simple and costumes seemed to be appropriate to the mid 20th c. Which brings us to the dance moves. There were entirely too many, not only in the party scene with its line dancing, but all through the production. There was also an excess of mugging. At times it felt like a sit-com on TV. But these are tiny flaws in a gem of a production.
We cannot close without mentioning the two female members of the ensemble who portrayed laundry boys. Sara Ann Duffy and Kristin Gornstein assumed a total deadpan look and were all the funnier for it. Brave to all the fine women onstage.
There will be one more production on Saturday. LYAO!
(c) meche kroop