Of course, the entire cast was cause for celebration, as was the astute conducting of Maestro Robert Tweten, but to see a newcomer shine like that is revelatory. This young soprano has a major voice and was undaunted by Verdi's writing. She possesses a superb instrument, as we noted when writing about the apprentice scenes. Having been mightily impressed by her Violetta in a scene from La Traviata, we cannot claim to be completely astonished; however, assuming a major role like this one with so much stage time is an entirely different story.
Her Alice Ford was substantial and real, good natured but a bit mischievous. Ms. Perrotta is probably very close in age to the adorable soprano Elena Villalón who portrayed her daughter Nanetta; however, her bearing and the weight of her voice succeeded in creating a convincing mother/daughter relationship. We foresee a brilliant future for Ms. Perrotta and nothing could make us happier.
Similarly, Ms. Villalón was completely believable as Nanetta, a young girl in love. The high tessitura of Verdi's writing seemed to offer no challenge to her focused soprano and her acting was everything it should be. She charmed us with her Act III aria "Sul fil d'un soffio etesio". Lyric tenor Eric Ferring as Fenton made an ardent lover as they teased one another and flew into each other's arms. Although the opera lacks large Verdian arias, Fenton gets a lovely brief one in "Dal labbro il canto estasiato vola" which served to highlight Mr. Ferring's pleasing timbre and phrasing; we admired a graceful diminuendo and the easeful approach to high notes. When the two young voices joined for "Labbra di foco", we were smiling from ear to ear.
If one were looking for major arias in this opera one might be disappointed; however baritone Roland Wood made the most of his jealousy aria "È sogno o realtà?" His character is difficult to like, not only because of his unwarranted jealousy but also because he would sacrifice his daughter to provide a wife for his elderly friend Dr. Caius (tenor Brian Frutiger). We liked him better by the conclusion of the opera when he graciously accepted the new son-in-law whom he had unwittingly blessed .
Trickery would seem to be the theme of the story. Falstaff would like to trick two women to get their money to pay for his lavish self-indulgence. Bardolfo and Pistola trick Falstaff into taking them back into service by pretending to be repentant. Mistress Quickly tricks Falstaff into believing that Alice appreciates his interest. Alice Ford tricks her husband into marrying their daughter to Fenton. The biggest tricks of all are played on Falstaff. Don't we all love to see people get the comeuppance they deserve? We think of this as "The Revenge of the Merry Wives".
And Falstaff certainly deserves comeuppance for his treatment of women and for his narcissistic self-delusion. So how does a shameless fraud like Falstaff achieve the sympathy of the operatic audience? The secret lies in the light hearted music created by Verdi, which tells us not to take him seriously, and in the artistry of the singer portraying him. For this we have Mr. Kelsey to thank for his resonant baritone and his total immersion in the role. We felt sorry for him when the townspeople beat him up in Act III. He affects repentance for his bad behavior but we know he is not "cured". Although he has seen his own folly, he readily points out the folly of others. Verdi's brilliantly written fugue ends the opera with "Tutto nel mondo è burla".
The factors that made Sir David McVicar's production so successful comprise the splendid ensemble feel of the work, and Robert Tweten's conducting, which brought out every comic element of Verdi's score. We have tried for years to grasp what makes music funny and invite our dear readers to comment below. At one point we heard the orchestra laughing! Was it the unexpected rhythmic shifts that created the humor?
As far as the ensemble work, the contributions of bass Scott Conner as Pistola and tenor Thomas Cilluffo (one of the apprentices) as Bardolfo doubled the comic impact of the work. Each had a unique personality and style of movement. Consider yourself fortunate if you were close enough to see their facial expressions as well as their antics. The audience loved it when Bardolfo, disguised as Nanetta, got married to Dr. Caius. Oh how he pranced! Oh how we laughed.
Mezzo-soprano Megan Marino made a funny Meg Page in a very funny hat and mezzo-soprano Ann McMahon Quintero delighted with her exaggerated "Reverenza". It seemed that the enjoyment of the audience reflected the joy of the cast. They seemed to be having a great time onstage.
As you probably already know, Arrigo Boito's libretto was adapted from Shakespeare's play Merry Wives of Windsor, with some additions to Falstaff's character from Henry IV, parts I and II. Boito's close working relationship with Verdi shows in the successful marriage of word and music.
Thankfully, the costumes were of the period (Shakespeare's) and the unit set was effective, comprising a playing area flanked by sets of stairs leading up to a gallery, allowing characters to spy on one another and permitting several activities to occur simultaneously. And this leads us to our sole quibble about the production. At times there was so much going on that it distracted from the singing. We have noticed this recently in a number of productions, along with unnecessary choreography with characters lined up, performing inappropriate dance moves.
In the opening scene, Falstaff is in bed with a male child and a somewhat older female in a nightdress. At the end of the scene it appears that Falstaff and she are in copulatory position. In other scenes, the young woman is seen twirling around the stage. None of this was necessary, nor did it add to the storytelling or character development.
In other scenes, servants are chasing each other up and down the stairs, or raking leaves, or hanging up the wash. When done between acts, it added to the verisimilitude but when singers were singing it was just distracting.
In sum, it was a delightful evening, marked by superb ensemble work and a glorious rendering of Verdi's music by singers and conductor alike. That we witnessed the birth of a star soprano was icing on the cake.
© meche kroop