Anne Robinson, Karen Saxby
With Willard White in the title role, this very well-sung production of Falstaff from the Aix-en-Provence festival, set in the 1950s, makes for a radical yet plausibly alternative view to the traditional setting in "Merrie England". By casting Jamaican-born baritone White in the title role, director Herbert Wernicke has emphasised Falstaff's role as an outsider, spurned by the community on account of his success as a local businessman and here with the added burden of being black.
White engages our sympathy for Falstaff's plight, notably in the last act where he finally turns the table on his adversary, Ford. Yet in his world-weary sophisticated persona this Falstaff seems at odds with the farce unfolding about him; he's been there, done that. There are, nevertheless, key moments to relish: his flicker of the eye as he dismisses Pistol and Bardolph with his letters to the Misses Ford and Page; the duet he shares with Ford on the trials and tribulations of love; and the return of his self-esteem as he pulls himself up to full height following his ducking in the Thames. His face in the final act, shot in close-up, white beard illuminated by moonlight, framed by Herne's horns, is unforgettable. The supporting cast are uniformly excellent as singers and actors, a joy to watch and hear.
The main set consists of a polished wooden floor with walls of wooden slatted flaps that open and shut as characters drop in and out of the action. White linen on washing lines, sheets tumbling out of drawers, or, somewhat incongruously, neatly folded on the bed that Falstaff rolls out of after his dip in the Thames, make welcome visual diversions. The Orchestre de Paris play brilliantly under maestro Enrique Mazzola who captures the ebb and flow of Verdi's fast moving score to perfection.
On the DVD: Falstaff on disc has subtitles in Italian, English, German, French and Spanish. The picture quality has a real three-dimensional feel to it and the soundtrack likewise. --Adrian Edwards
Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff - Aix-en-Provence / Mazzola