‘Falstaff’ Is Directed To Roots Of The Story

CHAUTAUQUA – The Chautauqua Opera Company began their too-short season with heavy, grand opera, and this weekend, they’re ending with a merry comedy.

Granted, it’s an opera with plot by William Shakespeare and music by Giuseppe Verdi. It has an excellent cast, it’s directed to steer our attention directly to the roots of the story, and the orchestra’s music is shaped and developed with the same skill. But, it’s funny – no passionate cries or grisly deaths.

“Falstaff” is based upon the play “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” The plot concerns a fat, aging knight, who thinks that his rank as a knight will make middle-class women want to throw themselves at his feet. It takes two major plots against him by those merry wives to finally teach him the truth of the situation.

Kevin Glavin was masterful as Sir John Falstaff. He swaggered effectively, but let us find the humor in his character. He never mocked his own character. His bass was big and full, and could fill the house until it rang.

Amy Burton, Ellen PutneyMoore, and Jennifer Roderer were the Merry Wives of the title, and each sang beautifully and acted with restraint and with style.

Michael Chioldi was another huge deep voice, singing the role of Alice’s jealous husband, who had a lesson of his own to learn about trusting a wife who had earned that trust. His aria, sung when his character thinks that his wife has betrayed him, brought the entire rollicking plot to a stop and dug deep into audience emotions, until its last note was sung.

Mandy Brown as the Fords’ daughter, Nanetta, and Jon Jurgens as Fenton, the man she plans to marry, as soon as her mother disabuses her husband of his own choice to be the groom, both had young, supple voices which added beautiful tones to their music’s kinetic qualities.

A quick word of praise for Ethan DePuy, a very young man singing the role of the elderly Dr. Caius, and doing some masterful acting as well as fine singing.

Director Jay Lesenger gave us a clear and easy-to-follow staging. The very clear English translation by Andrew Porter made the sung words easier to enunciate and easier to understand. It would have been better if the surtitles which are projected above the stage, so the audience can make out the words when several characters get to singing at the same time, had been better focused and easier to read.

Conductor James Meena and the Chautauqua Opera Orchestra had the maneuverability of a chamber ensemble, and the powerful sound of a full orchestra. Bravo to all.

Set designer Ron Kadri’s work was beautiful to behold, although the complexity required to change from one scene to the next brought the fun to a full stop, on two separate occasions.

In general, the Chautauqua Opera production of “Falstaff” is a light and pleasant evening, decked with gorgeous music, both instrumental and sung. It will be performed one more time, on Monday evening, at 7:30 p.m., in Norton Hall, on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution.