|all photos (c) Tristram Kenton|
Still there's much to enjoy, not least Laurent Naouri's rather personal take on Falstaff which included certain stylistic things that are unusual for Verdi singing. The extremity of the dynamic contrasts within the phrase and the concern for text over the long line worked for me here, as did his energetic and quite charming stage manner. Unfortunately the one serious moment of reflection in the opera, the beginning of Act II, where Falstaff laments the state of society and realises that he is ageing, is played completely for laughs - he strips off, revealing his flabby (but disappointingly normally proportioned) body to huge laughs from the audience (there would definitely have been several members at least as amply proportioned though) and so the one place where the wartime theme might have enriched the poignancy of a scene, passes as for nothing. I have to say also that the trick playing was strangely joyless and Alice comes off rather badly as a cruel rouser of large scale bullying: we are mainly party to the infliction of humiliation and fear on an individual for the entertainment of the crowd. Part of the problem might be that the upper class Falstaff has lost most of his status and power by the 1940's and so the punishment for his his self delusion and desperate but not altogether very threatening lechery seems completely at odds with the crime - I mainly felt sorry for him and the end left a bitter taste.
After hearing many good things about her from various sources, Ailyn Pérez disappointed as Alice Ford. She is an extremely beautiful woman with a very smiley demeanour, but the voice has very little presence in the theatre and failed to create the character in sound. The top, while covered, is her best range and at least projects. But Alice sits quite low as soprano roles go, and Pérez's middle voice and chest voice severely lack colour, bloom and volume. There's no trill and the small amount of flexibility that this role calls for seemed hard fought for. I was greatly looking forward to her ROH Manon next season, but now I'm quite wary: despite the fact that it's seen as a coloratura role, it requires tremendous support in the lower registers, and sits there for long periods of time. Curious, as there's a lot of buzz around her at the moment, so perhaps she was having an off night?
The young lovers both impressed, with Antonio Poli an appealing Fenton, but it was Elena Tsallagova's Nannetta that was the vocal highlight for me - this is a role sung near the beginning of many a light lyric's career, and Tsallagova nailed it on all accounts - those endless piano high notes were totally bewitching, and the timbre and colour of the voice is simply ideal. More please.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are a mixed blessing in the pit. In what is by far Verdi's most refined and beguilingly subtle score, the attention to detail and colour that these superb musicians bring should be fully welcome, but strangely it feels undernourished in the score's quieter portions, while the grander moments of the score blaze with delightful colour. In the best bits, Mark Elder imbues it all with a soft hued beauty - it's the more baroque elements, the bustling detail, that ironically elude the orchestra, mostly played with a lot of attack but not enough body in the sound.