Joyous and Well-paced
A semi-staged Verdi's 'Falstaff' in Cleveland,
reviewed by KELLY FERJUTZ
'He laughs best who has the last laugh!'
In spite of the collaboration of ten soloists, a chorus of about 40 and 100 members of the Cleveland Orchestra, this line, the last of the opera, was nearly drowned out by laughter -- from the audience -- during the final tableau of a sparkling production of Verdi's Falstaff on Thursday evening [8 June 2006] at Severance Hall. Indeed, the music itself laughs and chortles and giggles throughout this splendid ensemble effort.
Overcoming three cast changes within the last week (one of them just the day before the first night) the semi-staged opera proceeded as smoothly as clouds floating through the sky. In past years, opera performances here have involved the use of metal scaffolding and platforms which placed the singers over the orchestra, and this system generally worked very well -- visually and aurally. There was still ample room over head for the projected surtitles.
This time, however, the orchestra was lowered and the singers moved to the rear of the stage on risers. (There is a sort of pit here, but it is seldom used as such any more. However, the elevator in front of the stage, generally used for moving pianos to the storage room, can be raised to stage height for added people on stage, or lowered to make more seating available at the front of the auditorium.) For this occasion, the front portion of the elevator was raised about half-way while the rear portion was then raised slightly higher, providing three levels of seating for the orchestra. The podium was on the lowest portion, which still allowed Mr Welser-Möst to see and be seen by all the performers.
From left to right: Ain Anger (Pistola), Scott Scully (Bardolfo), Max René Cosotti (Dr Caius), Vladimir Chernov (Ford), Cataldo Caputo (Fenton), Cinzia Forte (Nannetta), Jane Henschel (Mistress Quickly), Richard Sutliff (Falstaff, hiding in basket) and Kelley O'Connor (Meg Page), at the 8 June 2006 performance of Verdi's 'Falstaff' at Severance Hall, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst. Photo © 2006 Roger Mastroianni
At the rear of the stage, the risers usually used for the orchestra provided a raised area for the singers. Falstaff's large chair remained in the center at all times, but was occasionally concealed by two large theatrical-type 'flats' painted with Elizabethan era characters; a gentleman on one, and a lady on the other. On occasion, the upper portions of these screens were lowered disclosing the presence of Fenton and Nannetta behind them. For the final scene in the forest, the screens were reversed providing a painted Herne's Oak, which also conveniently provided a wondrous pair of horns for Falstaff, sitting disconsolately in front of it.
Copyright © 10 June 2006
Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA