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But after the interval, everything comes together and the various strands of the piece are resolved. Fenton completes his wooing of Anne (in the Garter Inn of all places), with a radiant duet with choral backing. Evans and Caius fight their duel, which is worked up by RVW into an entertaining octet. Then comes the great scene where Falstaff is suitably duped, but before this RVW adds a delectable interlude where Mistress Ford sings Greensleeves, a moment relished by Jean Rigby.

Ford's asking his wife's forgiveness is one of the most moving scenes in the opera, well played by Miles and Rigby; the melody for this has haunted me ever since I first heard the opera nearly 30 years ago.

For the finale, RVW is very much in masque vein. Costume designer Tim Goodchild came up with some wonderfully imaginative costumes for the fairies and Ian Judge's handling of the ensembles was masterly. All the singers (soloists and chorus) worked hard singing and dancing -- there was no specific group of dancers.

Oleg Caetani and the orchestra gave a lyrical account of this lovely score, displaying no hint that neither orchestra nor conductor had experienced the score before.

This production was an enormous achievement for all concerned. RVW's opera calls for a strong ensemble cast and ENO gave us just that -- a balanced ensemble of vivid singers with no weak link. But Andrew Shore's Falstaff rightly dominated the stage whenever he was present. Whilst the opera has received mixed reviews in the press it received rapturous applause from the audience. Ian Judge has come up with a suitably witty and entertaining production; he and RVW gave us a resoundingly good evening in the theatre -- what more could we want.

Copyright © 8 March 2006 Robert Hugill, London UK



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