Falling for Falstaff
Berkshire Opera Festival’s production of Verdi’s Falstaff was one of the most incredible performances I have ever seen. I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks since the last show. Review after review raved about the cast, costuming, and near perfect execution of the comedic opera. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. I was completely drawn into every character on the stage and was wishing for at least two more performances to be able to attend again. The performances themselves were done at the Mahaiwe Theatre—a historical landmark nestled at the edge of Great New Barrington. The Friday night performance was packed, and everyone walked out of the venue with smiles in their eyes.
Giuseppe Verdi wrote Falstaff after his enormous success with Otello. The composer was determined to write a successful Opera Buffa after his failed first attempt with Un giorno di regno. Falstaff took nearly three years to be completed, as Verdi was nearly eighty years old at the time. The titular character, Sir John Falstaff, is an old, fat knight. In literature, the knight actually appears in three of Shakespeare’s plays- and eulogized in a fourth. This Opera, in particular, is based on The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Compositionally, the opera itself is stunning and musically rich. The orchestra part calls for a lot of gusto in the strings, while also highlighting unique voices of the woodwinds and brass. The Opera itself has its dramatic high point at the end of Act 2. Musicially, Verdi keeps the ears at attention throughout the outlandish third act. The final act features enchanting fairy music, a heart pulling romantic duo and culminated in the great fugal finale, ‘Tutto nel mondo è burla’ (‘Everything in the world’s a jest’). This line itself is a cheeky nod “All the World is a Stage” a speech from another Shakespeare Classic, As You Like It.
Part of the reason I love writing about these performances, is partly because of all the behind the scenes talent and work that goes into the stage. I’m so lucky to not only be able to see these artists perform live, but also to call them my friends. They’re so much more than their character on stage, and the dedication they bring to the room. This time around, I even got to be roommates with two of the cast members, and listen to their journeys so far. (more to come on that!) They all became a “Falstaff Fam” in four weeks, and their respect and admiration for each other was astounding. These humans have only been a part of our lives for a short four weeks, but the impression they’ve left has left a Falstaff sized hole in our hearts, and I know Tommy can’t wait to perform with any/all of them at any point again in the future.
Sebastian Catana, a true Verdi baritone was a delight to see on stage. He had a full pallet of vocal colors at his disposal to match his bright costumes on stage. Catana was in complete control of his artistry- giving us a “full bodied“ Falstaff, who charmed and seduced along with the requisite buffo of this mountain of a character. Although she is mostly well known for her dramatic Wagnerian and Verdian roles, Tamara Wilson approached Alice Ford with quick wit and charm. From the audience, you could see how much joy she had with the role, and could land a line with a quirk of her brow. As a character, Alice doesn’t necessarily have her own moment in the show, but Wilson’s soprano brought a sparkle to the voice of the clever wife of Ford, and was a perfect counter part to Catana.
Thomas Glass was a musical force on stage as Ford. His baritone filled the hall easily, and brought about beautiful and enveloping warmth in his aria, “È sogno, o realtà?”. Glass was a convincing Ford, and moved about the stage purposefully in every scene.
Meg Page was performed by Joanne Evans with impeccable comedic timing. Her warm mezzo was lovely to hear and complimented the rest of the voices on stage beautifully.
Alissa Anderson delivered a captivating performance as Quickly. Her powerful contralto was impressive to hear and she was an utter delight to watch—suffice to say she was the cause of several belly laughs.
The roles of Nanetta and Fenton ususally present a challenge for actors due to the brevity of their parts, but Jasmine Habersham and Jonas Hacker made the audience fall in love alongside them with ease. They made a perfect pair in voice and stage presence and it was clear they were enjoying themselves throughout the evening. I hope this is the first of many leading soprano and tenor roles for this pair.
Lucas Levy was a luxury casting as Dr. Caju. He stepped up toe to toe with Falstaff in the opening scene and didn’t back down with a clear, ringing tenor that would be heard in any opera house across the world.
Max Jacob Zander and Jeremy Harr gave impressive turns as Bardolfo and Pistola, respectively. Zander’s background in acrobatics was on display, prat falling and rolling his way across the stage. Harr’s booming bass was a standout in several ensembles and we expect big things in the future from this young voice.
I will miss this cast a lot, as artists and as friends. If you ever see them in a production near you, support them and hear them for yourself.