I cannot remember seeing conductor Carlo Rizzi smiling so much when taking a curtain call as at the end of this marvellously witty, charming and musically accomplished Falstaff.
This production of Verdi’s final opera is fun from beginning to end and had the audience laughing out loud with its larger than life characters, including of course the portly knight, and the setting in the 1980s worked splendidly.
Imagine a bar with neon lights and crisp packets for the Garter Inn for our declining anti-hero and his hangers-on, track suit wearing Bardolph and a particularly red-nosed Pistol, and then those Merry Wives of Windsor in their leotards at the home gym.
The updating and the use of jolly video of moving clouds and digital numbers to show the passing of time during the narrative, gave the production an instant appeal and allowed for relatively contemporary references (massage tables, exercise bikes, palates balls, dodgy outfits, cocktails, skate boards etc.) to bring in the nicely young audience. All of this was achieved without any damage to the work and with the magnificent Rizzi conducting the RWCMD players the music and story-telling was excellent.
Director Martin Constantine kept the action flowing at a perfect pace, knowing just how to keep his talented young cast continuously acting and interacting within Maria Kalamara’s retro set, beautifully lit by Alia Stephen, with some pretty cool topiary and a flexible space for the quite complicated comings and goings including nifty costume changes in and out of Atena Pou Clavell’s occasionally zany outfits.
Emyr Wyn Jones in the title role is exceptional with a voice rich in projection and tone with a youthful playfulness and dramatic ability that had us laughing with and at him, just as Verdi wanted.
Chanae Curtis is a marvellous dramatic lynch pin as Alice Ford beautifully sung and similarly supported and accompanied by Lesley Dolman as Meg and Helen Stanley as Mistress Quickly.
Ford is passionately sung by Andrii Ganchuk with a good balance of anger and bitterness matched with a hint of ridiculousness Matthew Clark and Kaidi Shen are a whimsical double act as Bardolfo and Pistol and a Dr Caius from David Powton. There’s a spirited Nannetta from Ellen Williams and a lovable young skaterboy gardner Fenton from Andrew Henley.
The production gave the chorus lots to do, some according to Verdi and some just for fun and all with obvious pleasure, Robert Aylward-Lopez, Jack Bowtell, Christine Byrne, Edmund Caird, Penny Carpenter, Qi Da, Gareth Edmunds, Grace Farrell, Joanna Goldspink, Pablo Gonzalez, Rachel Goode, Sophie Gregory, Emma Hansen, Stephanie Hershaw, Aaron Holmes, Dragos Ionel, Josh Jones, Sioned Llewelyn, Christina Negoescu, Jordan Towells and Robert Young.
Mastro Rizzi and his players gave us a sparkling evening. Hats off to: violin, Alice Poppleton, Heidi Forde, Olivia Jago, Charles Brookes, Dayna Townsend, Annabelle Pullar, Alice Apreda-Howell, Morven Graham, Samuel Hau, Nur Ismail, Tara Anderson, Naomi Wright and Eilidh Crawford; viola, Daire Roberts, Bridget Mansfield, Tiffany Rivett, April Cousins; cello, Natalie Halliday, Benedict Etherton, Hannah Clist, Haydn Wynn; Double Bass, Rachel Walsh and Zoe Seekings; flute, Hannah Scott, Jack Orton and Charlotte Thomas (Picc); oboe Luke Tayler and Gabriella Haynes (Cor); clarinet, Lydia Clough, Emily Summerlin (Bass); bassoon, Lucy Millership and Mollie Stallard; French horn, Fiona Bassett, Andrew Humphreys, Matthew Jackson and Alys Jones; trumpet, Joshua Barber, Benjamin Day and Bethany Mayes; trombone, Amy Harding, Cameron Duncan, Benjamin Williams-Stacey and Lloyd Pearce (Bass); timpani, Harry Greenway; percussion, Harry Bone and Diogo Gomes; harp, Ada Ragimov and guitar, Kianush Robeson.
A highly entertaining and engaging evening full of quality and commitment.