[Met Performance] CID:355173
New Production
Falstaff {176} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/06/2013., Metropolitan Opera Radio Sirius XM channel 74 Broadcast live
Streamed at metopera.org

(Debuts: Peter Van Praet, Paolo Fanale, Carlo Bosi, Christian Van Horn

Metropolitan Opera House
December 6, 2013 Broadcast/Streamed

New Production

Giuseppe Verdi--Arrigo Boito

Sir John Falstaff.................Ambrogio Maestri
Alice Ford........................Angela Meade
Ford..............................Franco Vassallo
Dame Quickly......................Stephanie Blythe
Nannetta..........................Lisette Oropesa
Fenton............................Paolo Fanale [Debut]
Meg Page..........................Jennifer Johnson Cano
Dr. Cajus.........................Carlo Bosi [Debut]
Bardolfo..........................Keith Jameson
Pistola...........................Christian Van Horn [Debut]

Conductor.........................James Levine

Production/Lighting Designer......Robert Carsen
Set Designer......................Paul Steinberg
Costume Designer..................Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer.................Peter Van Praet [Debut]

Falstaff was performed in two acts with an intermission between Acts II and III.

This performance was dedicated to the memory of Regina Resnik (1922-2013).
Between 1944 and 1983, she appeared at the Met in 312 performances of 38 roles
including 28 as Mistress Quickly and three as Alice Ford.

Production gifts of the Betsy and Ed Cohen/Areté Foundation Fund for New Productions & Revivals
and Harry and Misook Doolittle

Additional funding gifts from The Gilbert S. Kahn & John J. Noffo Kahn Foundation and Mr.
and Mrs. William R. Miller

Broadcast live on Metropolitan Opera Radio Sirius XM channel 74
Streamed at metopera.org

A co-production of the Metropolitan Opera; Royal Opera House, Covent Garden;
Teatro alla Scala, Milan; the Canadian Opera Company, Toronto; and De Nederlandse Opera, Amsterdam

Falstaff received ten performances this season.

Review of Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times

An Outsize Rapscallion Let Loose in Postwar England

 After the director Robert Carsen 's production of Verdi's "Falstaff" had its premiere at the Royal Opera House in London last year, word spread that it was wonderful - a thoughtful, affecting and hilarious staging that updates the action from the time of Henry IV to England in the 1950s.

Several companies are partners in this production, including the Metropolitan Opera, which is a lucky thing for Verdi fans in the New York area. The Carsen production had its Met premiere on Friday night and immediately became a high point of Peter Gelb's tenure as general manager.

A splendid cast is led by the powerhouse Italian baritone Ambrogio Maestri who simply owns the role of Falstaff. This was his 200th performance of it. At 6 foot 5 with his Falstaffian physique, Mr. Maestri certainly looks the part. A natural onstage, and surprisingly light on his feet, he makes Falstaff a charming rapscallion and sings with consummate Italianate style.

The other important news is that James Levine, who continues to recuperate from the illnesses and injuries that sidelined him for two years, is conducting this new "Falstaff." As the audience wandered into the house on Friday, Mr. Levine was already in the pit, seated on the motorized wheelchair he conducts from these days, which had been placed atop the special elevated platform that is his personal podium. When the lights went down and Mr. Levine's chair lift was elevated so that he could be seen, the audience broke into a sustained ovation. He is a rightly beloved artist.

Still, this was the first time that I have had concern over Mr. Levine's work since he returned to conducting in May, when he led the Mel Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in a triumphant concert, then followed up with his distinguished conducting of Mozart's "Così Fan Tutte" at the house in September.

There were marvelous elements to his "Falstaff." Before Friday's performance, he had conducted the work, Verdi's final opera, 55 times, a Met record. His insight into and affection for the opera came through consistently. Verdi's score is a miracle of ingenuity. Inspired by the librettist Arrigo Boito's breezy adaptation of Shakespeare's comic verse, Verdi wrote music that responded minutely to the patterns and flow of the words. The music is like a gossamer fabric of sewn-together snippets.

Mr. Levine revealed the continuity and structure of those snippets in this performance. The tempos he chose were sometimes restrained, allowing for enhanced richness and breathing room. No doubt during rehearsals the cast benefited from his expert coaching and experience.

But, there were shaky moments in the performance. "Falstaff' is an opera of ensembles, and some of these passages were a little scrappy. You could see singers glancing nervously at the prompter's box and at Mr. Levine. Maybe this was [first]-night jitters and everything will fall into place. And, as always, Mr. Levine's work had moments of glory, especially the silken delicacy and sheer magic he brought to the late scene when Nannetta, Alice's sweet daughter, pretends to be the Queen of the Fairies during a prank the townspeople play on poor Falstaff, who thinks he is being attacked by needling witches and goblins.

Over all, when it comes to theatrical flair, captivating costumes, stage antics and imagination, there are not many shows on Broadway to rival the Met's new "Falstaff." As he has explained in interviews, Mr. Carsen thinks Verdi's great comic opera is overcast with melancholy. The people of its community see the old ways of entitled aristocracy breaking down; new class structures are emerging. Mr. Carsen taps these resonances by placing the story in the 1950s when England was recovering from World War Il, the grand homes of the entitled were being turned into hotels, and a modern age was emerging of self-made men and liberated women.

Though Verdi's Falstaff clings to the trappings of aristocracy, he is a deluded, debt-ridden and comically pathetic character. This production opens in Falstaff's lodging at the Garter Inn, a spacious room with oak-paneled walls, the impressive work of the set designer Paul Steinberg. Room-service carts full of dirty dishes and empty wine bottles are scattered everywhere. We see Mr. Maestri's Falstaff lounging in a double bed, reading a paper, his hair a mess.

When this unkempt Falstaff gets up, he is wearing floppy, grimy long johns, underwear he obviously never changes. But, after deflecting jabs about his obesity from his henchmen Bardolfo (Keith Jameson) and Pistola (Christian Van Horn), Falstaff breaks into the oratorical defense of his girth that Verdi provided the character. To Falstaff, his immensity is a sign of stature and potency. When Mr. Maestri reached the climax of this outburst, proudly slapping his paunch ("mio regno " my kingdom, he calls it), he dispatched the sustained top notes with chilling power.

In the second scene, the merry wives are seen having a pleasant lunch together in a dining room at the inn, all dressed in ladylike outfits, just some of the countless costumes by the designer Brigitte Reiffenstuel that enliven this production. The soprano Angela Meade, fresh from an enormous success as Bellini's "Norma" at the Met, is a plush-voiced, wise Alice Ford. Nannetta, the winning soprano Lisette Oropesa, sings with effortless grace and lyrical bloom. The excellent mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano is Meg Page, first seen in a sensible jacket and skirt And the superb mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe brings her formidable voice, larger-than-life stage presence and droll comic ways to Mistress Quickly.

Nannetta has fallen for the adoring, dashing Fenton, here the young Italian lyric tenor Paolo Fanale in a promising Met debut. In this staging, Fenton works at the inn's dining room, dressed smartly in a waiter's tux with white gloves. He spots the young woman he has fallen for having lunch across the room and melts, another sweet idea from Mr. Carsen.

I am reluctant to describe more of the lovely touches in this staging lest I take away one's pleasure in seeing them fresh. But I have to talk about Alice's kitchen, right out of Betty Crocker. This is where Alice tries to teach Falstaff a lesson by inviting him to what he thinks will be a dinner rendezvous while her husband is away. The walls are lined with bright yellow cabinets; the countertops are mandarin orange. Alice pops a chicken into the oven as she mixes some creamy concoction in a bowl while sipping white wine. Falstaff arrives looking ridiculous in an English riding outfit.

The baritone Franco Vassallo, in the demanding role of Ford, sometimes sounded leathery and tight. But he is a vivid actor who brings anguish and fury to the soliloquy when Ford, a proud man who is rising in the world, actually thinks that Alice, his wife, is interested in Falstaff. The tenor Carlo Bosi was a vocally solid Dr. Caius, the stuffy professional Ford wants Nannetta to wed.

If Mr. Levine can settle the performance into a more solid rhythmic groove, this "Falstaff" will enter the annals of opera history.

Production photos of Falstaff by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

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