TUCSON: Falstaff
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In Review > North America


Arizona Opera

TO CLOSE OUT ITS SEASON, Arizona Opera did very well by the serious comic challenge of Verdi’s final masterwork. The company performs in Phoenix and Tucson; the run’s last performance on April 10 clearly pleased a considerable and diverse crowd. Chuck Hudson’s imaginative staging—on a splendidly evoked onstage galleried Elizabethan theater (by Douglas Provost and Peter Nolle) with Henry Venanzi’s well-drilled chorus (in contemporary clothes) as an increasingly participatory element—proved an eyeful, usually in successful ways. Only occasionally overdoing the slapstick, Hudson certainly directed one of the most consistently amusing Falstaff stagings I’ve seen. People laughed not only at subtitles, but at character-based comedy. Hudson was thorough in regard to most of the plot’s many narrative details, with a mere few ends left untied: the (always tricky) timing of Sir John’s Thames dump in relation to Ford’s being let in on the joke, and Alice initially appearing to Falstaff at Herne’s Oak already dressed for the masquerade.  CeCe Sickler’s costumes were beautifully cut if a bit too “theme park” bright in hue. Overall, we saw a diverting yet thoughtfully presented show.

Eric Melear conducted with clarity and dispatch; the horns maintained notably good ensemble. In places the orchestral sound was a bit pale in comparison to the somewhat amplified voices. A strong, rangy bass-baritone, Craig Colclough made an excellent Falstaff: rich-voiced, relishing the words, natural in the comedy and unusually convincing in the great role’s darker moments, such as Act Three’s“Reo mondo”. The Ford, David Adam Moore woke up voiceless the evening before the first Tucson show, so the company flew in recent Washington National Opera Young Artist Norman Garrett, who’d sung Ford at Wolf Trap two summers ago. Positioned a bit too far away, at a music stand on alternating sides of the wide stage, Garrett sang very creditably while Moore pantomimed a detailed, compelling performance of the jealous husband. Garrett understandably needed his score, but was able to work in some interpretive and dynamic subtleties as well. Karen Slack made a lively, joyous Alice, her sweet, soft-grained soprano extending to a substantive lower register one rarely hears in this part; occasionally one wanted sharper verbal definition. That we got from Dana Beth Miller’s mettlesome Quickly, sexy enough to flirt with Falstaff. 

Heather Phillips—clad in Disney Princess pink as Nannetta that may have caused some undue simpering—voiced her music beautifully, through to a shimmering Fairy Song complete with diminuendoed high A flat. She and Javier Abreu’s bright-voiced Fenton made an effective couple. Alyssa Martin offered an unusually vocally distinctive Meg; she will sings Cenerentola for the company next season. Her fellow Studio Artists Andrew Penning and Calvin Griffin made Bardolfo and Pistola atypically hunky; Griffin’s bass holds considerable promise. Kevin Newell’s reedy-sounding Caius made every syllable clear.  —David Shengold 

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