Falstaff - Verdi. Sydney Opera House Friday 15th Feb 2013
Warwick Fyfe - Falstaff
Mrs Ford - Amelia Farrugia
Ford - Andrew Jones
Fenton - John Longmuir
Nanetta - Lorina Gore
Ms Quickly - Domenica Matthews
Meg - Jacqueline Dark
MacFarlane/Breen/Arthur comic relief.
Conductor: Antony Walker
This was a marvellous outing of Verdi’s final work, a boisterous, bumptious traditional Tudor production with good voices and excellent comic acting. The chorus and orchestra were in good form and obviously well rehearsed.
However the same cannot be said for the electrical trades as the subtitles and other front of house circuits failed in Act II. I have often wondered if an orchestra could play in the dark and now I know that at least for a minute or so they can, quite a feat in my book. One member brandished a little torch while the conductor’s lectern remained aglow, giving close strings an advantage for once. After about 90 seconds (at a guess) the pit was happily re-illuminated yet subtitles took what seemed like another ten minutes to be restored. This left the ignorant audience, including myself, guessing at the rather complex section in which Ford (alias Sig. Fontana) is explaining to Falstaff his marital difficulties (which nowadays would probably be resolved using Viagara or steroids).
The Shakespeare shone through despite double translations to Italian and back to English. One of my favourites, the 'sherry' monologue is beautifully presented here in a two line version rather than twenty: both brain and brawn are useless reserves without the addition of alcohol to set them moving (paraphrasing).
Mr Fyfe has an enormous voice, although he is not a real bass baritone. Yet his efforts in this role paid off well for a company which once had Bryn Terfel as lead (and Simone Young in the pit). In my view, as with Rigoletto a year or so ago, Fyfe might better have been a very fine second cast and for three hundred dollars for top seats, we should have again been treated to a ‘great’ import in the title role. That is, should any such international artist agree to sing with this remote and in many ways dilapidated opera company. But nobody could complain about Fyfe’s claim to fame … and Falstaff on the night. All of the other principle roles were well sung and acted.
People may think I’m crazy but I often judge a performance on what I imagine Shakespeare, Verdi or my own grandfather would think of it should they return from the dead. I feel sure that honour and dramatic honesty would be satisfied with this outing by the national opera company. Indeed, here is an ensemble opera put on using local Australian artists and the result is simply excellent, showing the genius of Verdi, good casting and a company versed in the art. Falstaff is an acquired taste, like Mefistopheles, Fidelio or Capriccio. But it is worth the effort in the acquisition.
Another problem is Sydney’s Friday evening traffic which was diabolical. I ended up alighting from my stationary taxi at 7pm near William and Riley Street and walking the length of Macquarie Street past a jam of cars. It might help my fitness I suppose.
Notes written by Andrew Byrne ..