Director Annilese Miskimmon’s new staging of Verdi’s comic masterpiece for Opera Holland Park has more than a whiff of Carry on Windsor about it, but charts a rather uncertain course throughout the first half of the evening.
Nicky Shaw’s brilliant revolving toy town set overcomes the hurdles that the stage at OHP presents, as there’s no fly tower or wings, but the opening scene is set in a sanatorium for veterans from the First World War. Falstaff, Pistola and Bardolpho are patients alongside a plethora of extras – some silent shell-shocked victims unceremoniously tipped out of the wheelchairs for questionable comedic effect, and the rest consisting of a gaggle of nurses and matrons.
In some respects this makes sense as Miskimmon is drawing on Falstaff’s past not only from the Merry Wives of Windsor, but Henry IV as well, yet this idea is fudged and not followed through properly. What does work is the portrayal of Falstaff as an insatiable skirt-chaser who’s still got enough led in his pencil to perform cartwheels and court the merry wives, and I like the fact that Ford is here portrayed as a pent up member of the cloth. Quite what such a prig is doing married to such a vivacious woman as Alice is left unanswered, but the portrayal of Quickly as a put upon charlady and household help is a clever one.
Much of the cast however seem uncomfortable with the slapstick required of them, which results in a very unfunny and fudged scene with Falstaff and the laundry basket.
After the interval everything settles down; the comic business is less over the top and with some particularly evocative lighting by Mark Jonathan the final scene in the wood is magical.
Musically it’s a great night. In the title role Olafur Sigurdarson is the perfect embodiment of the fat knight and his singing certainly hits the spot. George von Bergen as Ford, Linda Richardson as Alice, Carole Wilson as Quickly and Carolyn Dobbin as Meg are as near a perfect ensemble as you’ll find in this opera whilst Benjamin Hulett is a mellifluously sung Fenton.
Conductor Peter Robinson has a sure grasp of how this effervescent score should sound and he’s rewarded by glorious playing by the City of London Sinfonia.