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Friday, October 16, 2009

Empty Stage & a Ghost Light

The last two professional opera productions I've seen were VERY interesting. The first left me so exasperated over the terrible conducting and second rate Italian coming from seasoned professionals, that I was a bit undone to be honest.

Then a few days later, I saw Washington Opera's AMAZING production of "Falstaff". The show started with a mostly empty stage and a ghost light. I can't express how wonderful it was to see opera work the way it's supposed to! I was thoroughly entertained vocally, musically, and dramatically. Alan Opie was the Falstaff and he was simply perfect in the role. I've seen a number of Falstaffs, including Paul Plishka's debut in the role (with Freni, Horne and Susie Graham back at the Met in the early 90s), and Mr Opie was just what the doctor ordered. The Ford was simply the best I've heard live - a young baritone named Timothy Mix. Check him out. The Quickly and Meg Page were Nancy Maultsby and Betsy Bishop and both were fantastic - funny and full-voiced seasoned professionals wielding their craft easily and with aplomb. Down to Bardolph and Pistola (a great new bass, Grigory Soloviov), the cast sang a very difficult score in a completely engaging and light-hearted manner.

The concept was funny, and had a fresh take - at least to my mind - on the idea of actors who dress up to be characters who then later dress up to put on a practical joke in a forest. The set was cool and funny - including a tavern that transformed itself into the great oak. There were hysterical touches - from Bardolph eating old pizza from the floor to the male dancing fairies who practically stole the show. It all ended with Verdi's tour de force of a fugue and it was given a visual tour de force to match. Usually it's "park and bark" time, as the fugue that ends the show is tough to keep together. The director took no prisoners and marched the chorus and cast through an endless array of moves - including a pseudo-conga line. It really gave the musical components of the fugue a visual illustration unlike I'd seen before. And of course, this Falstaff worked because there was a wonderful conductor down in the pit with a wonderful orchestra. I stood up and yelled bravo.

Maybe I had to experience an off-the-mark opera to fully appreciate the exciting night had at Falstaff.