OHP 2012: Verdi – Falstaff

Two operas in one week. Have I uncovered a latent love of the art-form? No, but I might have discovered a new interest, one altogether more three-dimensional than my usual fall-back of symphonies and the like. I’m rather excited by the prospect of getting to grips with a new art-form. Thanks Opera Holland Park.

Opera Holland Park

OHP’s penultimate production for this season was an ambitious and challenging one, as far as I could see from seat D37. Verdi’s Falstaff makes all sorts of demands on a director the likes of Zanetto and Gianni Schiichi doesn’t, not least how to choreograph the cast and considerable chorus. There were moments when the forces required seemed to overwhelm everyone on stage. That might have been first-night anxieties. I hope so. Because this was an engaging piece of entertainment. Heartfelt. Passionate.

The set appealed most to my senses. Simple, ingenious and practical. It succeeded in containing the action (for the most part). My only concern was those moments when the cast had to go running off stage. It’s some considerable distance, whether you’re leaving a scene or returning to stage to help prepare for the next. And sometimes I noticed those moments keenly.

Don’t let that put you off. There is an urgency in the production. Falstaff’s (Olafur Sigurdarson) energy and commitment is breathtaking (and worthy of the cheer the audience mustered during the curtain call). And while he filed a wholly satisfying performance, it was – for me – Alice’s (Linda Richardson) post-war ditzyness and Fenton’s (Benjamin Hulett) almost-Clark Kent-like fallability (and uncanny resemblance to Perry Benson from You Rang M’Lord) whose performances warranted more appreciation than the audience gave.

You’ll know when opera transports you: when you take your eyes off the subtitles and find your mouth has dropped to the floor as you watch what’s going on in stage. Alice and Fenton both had their moments as they sang their arias in Act 3. Magical stuff. Excellent work.

These are the lasting moments from another unexpectedly enjoyable night. Opera Holland Park has a secret weapon: a relaxed intimate atmosphere which lets libretti, music and performers shine through. I suspect I’m a convert. And I can’t wait for next year’s season to get underway.

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