Back to the COC’s production of Falstaff last night for a second look. I felt I spent so much time last week trying to figure out who was who and what was what in this rather madcap comedy that I was really looking forward to seeing it in a more relaxed way. I had figured out that there was a lot of detail to unpack that I had missed first time around; partly because I was attention challenged and partly because I had forgotten my opera glasses. Last night; perched up in Ring 5, I watched a good part of this show through the glasses and saw many things I missed first time around. I think I want to watch it from close up if I can, even if there’s an acoustical price to pay for that.
What did I see and hear differently? I got a better appreciation of the antics of Messrs Gleadow and Ainsworth (Pistola and Bardolfo). They really do the most insane comedy act here with tons of physical clowning as well as great singing. I also saw different facets in Simone Osborne’s performance. She crackles with energy in every scene she’s in and often steals the show. Vocally she’s interesting too. Of all the ladies she’s the one who gets the most lyrical music; much of it quite high. Her Queen of the Fairies aria is quite unwordly and a bit disturbing.
Gerry Finley seems to have refined his comic timing and maybe was taking a few more vocal risks in the interests of comedy than on opening night. It’s by any standards an extraordinary performance. I was trying to inventory the parts where he is not on stage and there aren’t many. The rest of the time he’s throwing himself into the action;fat suit and all. It must be absolutely exhausting. I was also more aware that this is a “performance”. Falstaff is a “performance” of course on many levels. After all, the central plot theme is a conspiracy that we, the audience, are party to. But here there are times when Falstaff is playing to us. There’s a scene in Act 1 where he does a sort of music hall song and dance routine tracked by a spot for example.
I also really appreciated the craftsmanship of the final scene. The lighting for the forest sequence is wonderful and the way Nanetta and the other ladies glide in on platforms guided by hooded and antlered chorus is quite creepy. This transforms into a banqueting hall full of people in evening dress in a very clever way and no momentum is lost (unlike the scene changes in Act 1 which are a bit lengthy and do draw away some energy).
My main takeaway last night though was how much people were enjoying themselves. Up in Ring 5 with the high school kids and students and little old Russian ladies everyone was having fun. Nobody could or would or should forget that this is a comedy and a very funny one. I realised as I checked the media kit that in my original review I chose the less obviously comic of Michael Cooper’s excellent photographs. I’ve tried to fix that here.