OPERA NEWS - Falstaff
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Opera Colorado

In REview Denver Falstaff lg 818
Olafur Sigurdarson as Falstaff in Denver
© Matthew Staver

OPERA COLORADO ended its season on a cheery note with a glowing production of Verdi’s Falstaff, a work not seen here for three decades. The company gathered a solid cast and first-rate production team that reveled in all the hilarity and provided the company with one of its most consistently satisfying productions in recent memory (seen May 11).

Falstaff requires a director who can resist taking things too far. In his company debut, David Edwards nimbly managed Verdi’s and Boito’s moments of broad humor—the hiding behind bushes and semi-closed doors, lesson-teaching pranks, etc.—without ever letting the action fall into pure silliness. Edwards made sure that everything revolved around Sir John Falstaff, who emerged, in Icelandic baritone Olafur Sigurdarson’s committed portrayal, as a loveable, endearingly naïve old sot. Well padded and properly bearded, Sigurdarson looked exactly as we would imagine Falstaff—a bit short and round and bouncing with energy. Sigurdarson captured Sir John’s unstoppable bravado, emphasizing his cuddly, quixotic separation from reality. One charming moment captured the essence of this comic characterization: on his way to woo two of his latest conquests, the elegantly dressed suitor slowly made his way down a staircase (à la Sunset Boulevard), pausing to hoist a leg on the handrail as if to display his supreme self-confidence—and flexibility. He was equally agile vocally, whether in the blustery exclamations of “L’onore!” or the self-pitying musings of “Mondo ladro,” the latter delivered while seated forlornly, recovering from a cleverly staged splash in the Thames. 

Falstaff is truly an ensemble opera, demanding solid acting and singing in even the smallest roles, and OC gave Edwards everything a director could wish for. Dana Beth Miller’s Quickly nearly stole the show, easily projecting her impeccably controlled mezzo to the far corners of the spacious hall and gliding around the edges of the action with sure comic timing. Sandra Piques Eddy (Meg) and Cynthia Clayton (Alice) seemed to relish the playfulness in their roles. As the innocent Nannetta, Susannah Biller won hearts with her floating soprano, attractive presence and palpable chemistry with her Fenton, Chinese tenor Mingjie Lei, whose understated way with “Dal labbro il canto” proved a perfect match for its romantic text and Verdi’s gentle melody.

Italian baritone Marco Nisticò captured the comical side of Ford, delivering a handsome reading of “È sogno? o realtà” that simmered with his anger and mistrust. Smaller roles were handled capably by Alex Mansoori (Caius) and Young Artists Nathan Ward (Bardolfo) and Andrew Hiers (Pistola).

With spot-on pacing from Ari Pelto, the cast brilliantly tossed off the complexities of both the dizzying Act I finale and the glorious concluding fugue. Pelto wielded a sure hand over his fine orchestra throughout the performance, never allowing Verdi’s powerful orchestral moments to overwhelm the singers. His tempos meshed perfectly with Edwards’s ability to keep things moving without seeming rushed.

Stephen D. Mazzeno’s unfussy Tudor-style Garter Inn towered over most of the action. Moveable hedges and a stage-spanning rippling blue fabric amusingly depicting the Thames added to the fun. Lucas Krech provided a similarly simple lighting design, utilizing follow spots for important nocturnal moments. The sumptuous period costumes were from Santa Fe Opera.  —Marc Shulgold

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