Review: Falstaff (Canadian Opera Company)

The Canadian Opera Company kicks off their 2014/15 season with Falstaff at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto

As an opener for the Canadian Opera Company’s 2014/2015 season, Falstaff, by Giuseppe Verdi, was an ingenious choice. The grandiosity and charm of Verdi’s music coupled with all the classic tropes of comedic opera is an almost certain crowd pleaser.

The opera was adapted from The Merry Wives of Windsor and excerpts from Henry the IV, parts 1 and 2 by William Shakespeare. Falstaff is a man of great appetites; his insatiable lust and conceit leave him vulnerable to practical joking. I am not a fan of fat jokes, which are rampant throughout this work. Nevertheless, I did laugh out loud during most of the show at the many other hilarious jokes. It was clear from the audience’s hearty laughter throughout the show that the excesses we fall prey to and the folly they lead to are themes that still resonate for all.

Director Robert Carsen chose to set his interpretation in 1950s England. For the viewer, it felt as though everything fell into place from there. The sets were vibrant and captivating. The Act II, scene II set was so striking that a collective gasp, followed by applause, rippled through the audience when the curtain went up. The costumes were also a feast for the eyes and very much in keeping with themes of opulence and consumption in this opera. The costumes for the red ball during the finale were especially memorable.

The choice of Gerald Finney for the title role makes it even clearer that a great deal of thought went into setting the right tone for the season. Mr. Finney enjoys a free, relaxed tone that perfectly captures the essence of a carefree libertine. He is also an accomplished physical comedian. The gusto with which he tucked into his bangers at the end of the opening scene managed to tell us everything about this incorrigible, yet somehow loveable buffoon in a single gesture.

I have had the opportunity to hear Russell Braun sing on several occasions and his voice reminds me of the smell of strawberry jam while it’s cooking. Until Friday night I had only heard him sing dramatic roles. It turns out Mr. Braun is as versatile as he is vocally gifted. In the role of Ford, he was a perfect foil for Falstaff.

A part of this opera’s wonderful timelessness is that it has several, strong-minded, independent female characters. Alice Ford (Lyne Fortin) and her daughter Nannetta (Simone Osborne), with the help of some ladies who lunch manage to outfox Ford and Falstaff by the end of the show. Ms. Fontin’s voice has strength and confidence, mingled with warmth that painted a relatable picture of the kind-hearted, no-nonsense Alice Ford. I was delighted by Ms. Osborne as Oscar in the 2013/2014 production of Masked Ball. The role of the strong-willed ingénue Nannetta is extremely different, but still a perfect pairing with Ms. Osborne’s radiant and bold timbre.

Verdi has never disappointed me. His music is accessible to modern day audiences and full of dramatic flair. I had only seen Verdi tragedies previously and was absolutely delighted by his use of signature compositional devices for comedic effect in this work. I would absolutely recommend this gleeful, over-the-top production to opera newcomers.

Details:

  •  Falstaff is playing until November 1 at Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West)
  • Show times are 7:30 PM on October 9, 14, 29 and November 1 with additional matinees on October 12 at 2 PM and October 25 at 4:30 PM
  • Ticket prices range from $45 – $365. Patrons under 30 can purchase tickets for $22 or $35 here.
  • Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231 (long distance 1-800-250-4653)

Photo: Company, by Michael Cooper

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