OPERA NEWS - Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor
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Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor

Juilliard Opera

In Review Wieber von Windsor hdl 518
John Giampietro’s Lustigen Weiber von Windsor staging at Juilliard
© Richard Termine

DIRECTOR JOHN GIAMPIETRO set Otto Nicolai’s Lustigen Weiber von Windsor in a World War II munitions factory, providing a fertile playing ground in Juilliard Opera’s production (February 14). Nothing brings a community together more sharply than wartime, and the microcosm of the factory, where the women have agency after taking over traditionally male jobs, allowed Giampietro to bring out relationships, not just among the principals but within the hard-working ensemble. The audience in the Rosemary and Meredith Willson Theater sat on two sides of the square playing space, and the opera was presented in two acts instead of the usual three, with the spoken dialogue in English and the music sung in German. However, Giampietro replaced Nicolai’s text with the corresponding moments from Shakespeare, drawing from the source play as well as Henry IV and, in a particularly deft touch, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. By showing Anne and Fenton rehearsing scenes throughout, Giampietro not only anticipated their Titania–Oberon roleplay in Act III but kept the young lovers (benched until midway through Act II when the work is performed as written) present and active from the start. The addition of Mistress Quickly (a gamine Brittany Hewitt) as a tomboyish agitator stirred the pot, but Giampietro’s most effective touch came during Falstaff’s drinking song, with a flashback to his parting from Prince Hal (Ryan Hurley) in Henry IV, Part 1. On a dime, the buffoonish Falstaff became tragic and painfully human, as he relived his disgrace.

The success of that moment was due in large part to bass Alex Rosen, whose name should top every “singers to watch” list. Rosen delivered an astoundingly mature, polished and luxuriously sung Falstaff, fully inhabiting the role with seamless integration of his voice, body and face. The deep sadness of the Prince Hal moment was as perfectly rendered as his physical and vocal comedy, and Rosen was every bit as masterful delivering Shakespeare’s text as singing Nicolai’s music. 

Soprano Christine Taylor Price shone as an intelligent, commanding Alice Ford, unleashing roulades of accusatory coloratura with crystalline purity, fierce feminine pride and a nuanced inner life. Kady Evanyshyn grounded her nicely as Meg Page, singing with a plush, buoyant mezzo. It’s too bad her aria, “Vom Jäger Herne,” was replaced with dialogue; Evanyshyn surely would have woven a deliciously mysterious spell with it. As Anne, soprano Jessica Niles was no dainty ingénue but a scrappy, rebellious teen and the driving force in her romance with Fenton, the shy, mellifluous tenor John Chongyoon Noh. Tenor Matthew Pearce was an endearingly oafish and clarion Slender, repeating his plaintive “Oh, süsse Anne!” with comic pathos, while Andrew Munn made a meal of Dr. Caius’s malaprop-laden Franco-German.

William Guanbo Su’s booming bass matched Page’s inherent good nature, especially as de factoemcee for Falstaff’s baiting in the forest. Hubert Zapiór’s Ford walked with a cane, suggesting a war injury that left him emasculated and suspicious. His urbane baritone balanced rage and disingenuousness in his disguise as “Brook,” and he and Price made sparks fly in their duet. 

Alexis Distler’s ingenious set employed racks of missiles in various formations, and Audrey Nauman’s costume detail included seamed stockings, parachute silk for Anne’s Titania dress, and a Rosie the Riveter getup for Alice. Chris Reynolds and Adam Rothenberg played the florid two-piano reduction with jaw-dropping virtuosity, while Cherry Choi Tung Yeung (violin) and Lisa Choi (piccolo) contributed lovely solo moments. Conductor Teddy Poll held the proceedings together with precision and obvious enjoyment, and the small but energetic ensemble was a vital presence, both dramatically and vocally.  —Joanne Sydney Lessner 

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