Falstaff – Verdi – The Grange Festival
Michael Chance took a real risk in his appointment as Artistic Director and CEO of the new Grange Festival, but with this wonderful production of Falstaff the risk really seems to have paid off. He has overseen a very good season at The Grange Festival, but in conjunction with the Director, Christopher Luscombe, this Falstaff is a success in every department, particularly visually and musically.
Christopher Luscombe and his team - the Designer, Simon Higlett and Lighting Designer, Peter Mumford - have put together a comically updated and magical production, with comedy at its route. The great night scene of Windsor Great Forest is matched by the clever and colourful designs of Alice Ford’s home and kitchen. The opening scene in a pub could be represented anywhere in the UK. It really was a joy to behold with bags of laughs and fun all the way through – as indeed it should be. So many Directors seem to miss this part of Verdi’s last opera. Indeed Verdi himself wrote of the libretto by Arrigo Boito ‘He has written for me a lyrical comedy that resembles no other’.
Whilst Christopher Luscombe’s production would do Verdi proud, it is the music under the control of the Italian Conductor, Francesco Cilluffo, who studied composition in London being awarded a Master of the Guildhall School and a PHD in composition at Kings College London. His musicology was the driving force behind this wonderful evening.
Robert Hayward was his John Falstaff, using Pilates as his exercise vehicle and walking barefooted on stage. The part was acted as an aging hippie and sung with a deep rounded baritone sound, which constantly seemed to recognise Falstaff’s failings. His dastardly servants - the Bardolfo of Christopher Gillett and the Pistola of Pietro di Bianco - were perfect foils for Falstaff and wonderfully expressive in their alliance with the Windsor Ladies - the Meg of Angela Simkin, the Mistress Quickly of Susan Bickley, the fiery Nannetta of Rhian Lois and the Alice Ford herself sung by the National Opera Studio and Samling Alumni Welsh soprano, Elin Pritchard. Master Ford, whose pink suit entrance shone with his vocal qualities was sung by Nicholas Lester and the beautifully toned Fenton by the Cambridge graduate Alessandro Fisher. Graham Clark was the luxury casting as Dr Caius, whose large rasping voice still fills the auditorium.
There were too many comedy moments to mention them all, but the Falstaff flowers gift had a reduced price label on them, there was a hilarious use of the kitchen larder, the Queen and her corgi were presented on stage and Falstaff was thrown out of the window into the river via a supermarket trolley – and so it went on.
The company sings ‘Tutto nel mondo e burla (all the world’s a joke)’ and to the smiling audience at the end the evening’s entertainment comedy was complete.