Every year my family takes a trip down to the Glyndebourne opera house, as family treat at the start of summer. This year we saw Falstaff, Verdi’s opera based on The Merry Wives of Windsor by Shakespeare.
Falstaff is probably the closest I have seen an opera get to a rom-com, in the sense that there are whole load of mistaken identities, lovers that must hide their relationship, and characters being made to get their comeuppance through humiliation. In this case the lazy, greedy knight Falstaff sends identical love letters to Meg and Alice, in order to gain from their husbands’ fortune. His plot is discovered, and everybody joins together to make him repent. Elsewhere, Nannetta must hide her relationship with the soldier Fenton from her father, who wants to marry her off to the old and ugly Dr Caius. After many deceptions, plots and even Falstaff being chucked out the window in a lake, the opera ends happily, with Nannetta and Fenton’s relationship finally being accepted by her father. Falstaff is tormented into seeing the error of his ways through an elaborate scheme involving most of the town dressing as mythical creatures to scare him into confession.
Scene in Windsor forest (from programme)
Richard Jones, the director, chose to set the opera in 1946, in order to clash Falstaff’s decadence with everybody else’s austerity. It was also a time of women’s liberation, which worked well with the fact that Alice and Meg take charge of the plot foil Falstaff’s plans. The set was absolutely incredible in this production. There was the Garter Inn, where Falstaff resides, the garden of a mock-tudor house in which Alice, Nannetta and Mr Ford (husband and father) live, Alice’s bedroom, and finally the clearing with an old oak tree where Falstaff is made to confess the error of his ways. There were no standard set changes however. The entire set literally changed. They had clearly built each set as freestanding ‘rooms’, and after each scene the sets changed entirely. This was incredibly impressive, and really helped the opera seem real.
The orchestra (conducted by Mark Elder) and singers reached an incredibly high standard. Our Falstaff was funny, rather disgusting and really physical in how he portrayed the character, to great effect. Also I must mention Nannetta, who in her disguise as the Queen of Fairies at the end of the opera, sang the aria “Sul fil d’un soffio etesio” absolutely beautifully. There was also a really lovely inclusion of children in the opera, who played Brownies who dressed as imps in the final torment of Falstaff. The music in general was very nice and fitted well with the narrative, and allowed each soloist to show off their talents to a really high standard.
Overall the opera was really enjoyable and well staged. If you ever have to opportunity to go to Glyndbourne, I would really recommend you take it! It is quite hard to get tickets, as there is a membership system because the opera house receives no public funding at all, and the whole experience is really worth the trouble. There are beautiful grounds to wander around before the opera (as can be seen in my first 30 day snap post) and in the interval you go to have dinner, with options ranging from a picnic to a full three-course meal, all of which are delicious.