Vecchio Chris

Richard Jones chose to set his 2009 production of Verdi’s Falstaff in Windsor in 1946.  I suspect it’s driven by similar reasoning to Robert Carsen’s 1950s production.  Falstaff plays out very nicely as a conflict between an older order of things and a more thrusting kind of bourgeoisie and 1940s/50s England works well for that.  The “just after the war” setting also allows Jones to present Fenton as a G.I. which adds another twist to Ford’s distrust of him.  Although the jumping off point for Jones and Carsen is the same the results are quite different.  Jones seems to be operating in the traditions of English farce, à la Brian Rix, or maybe Carry on films,which works pretty well.  Falstaff is a farce rather than a comedy of manners.  So, besides the obligatory entrances and exits, couples caught in flagrante etc we also get a certain geometric precision in the blocking that borders on choreography.  In Act 1 Scene 2, for instance, the ladies rather military perambulation in a garden of very precisely aligned cabbages is doubled up by Brownies and a rowing four countermarching.

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There are some other neat touches in the production too.  Mistress Quickly is apparently a WAAC officer (which makes Marie-Nicole Lemieux look curiously like Simon Russell-Beale playing Widmerpool).  The Garter inn in Act 3 Scene 1 is framed by a bridal wear shop and a joke shop and in the final scene the masqueraders seem to represent film characters of the period.  Ford, for example, is Count Dracula.  So, not overly serious and very, very English.

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One might have thought that such a concept would have steered Glyndebourne to an English cast but not a bit of it.  Although Falstaff himself is played by the admirable Chris Purves, the rest of the cast is international indeed.  That said, Purves rightly takes centre stage.  It’s a good role for him.  His comic timing is impeccable and the more lyrical parts of the role sit nicely for his sweet upper register.  He also manages the contrasts between over confident Falstaff and rather pathetic Falstaff with some delicacy.  He gets a very impressive fat suit too.  It still looks convincing with his shirt off.

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Besides Lemieux, who is ideal for the rather Hattie Jacques like Mistress Quickly, the ladies include Jenn Holloway as Meg Page and Dina Kuznetsova as Alice Ford.  They make a well balanced pair with cute acting and great ensemble singing.  The lovers are played by Bülent Bezdüz and Adriana Kučerova.  They absolutely look and sound the part.  Their interactions are playful and the “moon” motif mini duets sound absolutely lovely.  Tassis Christoyannis is a tall and imposing Ford.  His performance does seem, in a weird way, to prefigure his appearance as dracula at the end.  It’s something about the eyes.  Vladimir Jurowski conducts with the LPO in the pit and gives a detailed, rhythmically lively account of the score which works really well with the patter type numbers and supposrts the humour without being heavy handed.

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It’s a self consciously stagey production and François Roussillon’s video direction rather goes with that.  There are closeups where there need to be but plenty of chance to appreciate what Jones is doing across the whole stage.  Would that all opera recordings were this well filmed.  On Blu-ray the DTS-HD sound and 1080p HD picture sound and look great.  Extras are limited to an illustrated synopsis and cast gallery.  the booklet contains an essay and a track listing.  Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

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This is a very recommendable disk.  I suppose the main modern competition is the Met recording of the somewhat darker Robert Carsen production which I haven’t seen.  I loved the Carsen production when it was given at the COC but the cast at the Met was entirely different.  I guess I should see it some time.

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4 thoughts on “Vecchio Chris

  1. I love this DVD. I was to put it mildly not a fan of the Carsen production when it was done at the Met. I will admit that one issue was Levine’s conducting vs. Jurowski who has been brilliant in everything I have heard him in live and on recordings. Also for all the acclaim and audience adulation Maestri got, I did feel like he was doing his thousandth performance of the role. For some reason many of the incongruities that bothered me in the Carsen (not to mention some of the Carsen “tropes” like the giant bed in the middle of the stage) did not register at all with me in this production. One big difference for me was the final scene which I thought was wonderful in the Jones production and pretty much a disaster in the Carsen (in my experience of many Falstaff productions disaster seems to be the norm for the final scene).

    • I share your view of Jurowski! The main reason I haven’t got hold of the Met recording is that, although I like the Carsen production, I was sceptical of that cast and conductor in it. It’s dark and it needs a cast and conductor who get it and will go with it rather than one where people are imposing their oft repeated versions of their roles onto it. Debus “got it” (as so often – for example how he made the Alden Fledermaus work in Toronto though it bombed at ENO). Most of the Toronto cast were new to the work. Finlay was amazing and Antoun and Osborne as the lovers were so fresh. I really wonder whether you might not have liked the Carsen as it was embodied at COC. It does sound like the Met version was not at all the same thing. Chris P. by the way is rather lovely. I shared a half hour streetcar ride with him over the winter when he was singing in Siegfried. How often does one bump into Alberich at the tram stop?

      • Well I will admit that cast and conductor make a difference. I didn’t care for Carsen’s Onegin the first time I saw it with the “dream team” of Fleming, Hvorostovsky and Gergiev. The next season the Met brought it back with Mattila, Hampson and Belohlavek and I loved it. I believe it was sold to COC when it was replaced by another dreary, pointless Gelb production. Unlike some other recent productions of favorite operas, I didn’t dislike the Falstaff to the extent that I wouldn’t see it again-actuallyI would crawl through glass on my hands and knees to see Finley in the title role.

      • Don’t know anything about the COC picking up the Carsen Onegin (cough). In fact I was sitting in front of Mr. Neef about two weeks ago when he was asked whether the COC was planning to do anything in Russian soon. He harrumphed non-commitally. Honest officer.

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