Sunday, March 05, 2006

Sir John in Love

One cannot help speculating. Is it the existence of an opera by Verdi on the same subject that prevents the performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Sir John in Love, first performed in 1929, last professionally mounted in 1958, and now at the English National Opera? Or is it due to the antique post romantic idiom? Is it because the composer is English? Or is it the sometimes overwhelming sweetness of the music that is for my ears the sweetest music for an opera I've ever heard? For a sample listen to Serenade to music by this composer, a man of great skill whose music is often like a warm bath.

Sir John in Love is the same plot as Shakespeare's and Nicolai's Merry Wives of Windsor, as well as Verdi's Falstaff. Sir John (sung by Andrew Shore) decides that two respectable married women of his acquaintance have been admiring his robust figure. If one of them gazes down at his feet, it's to lust after the beauty of his calf. He sends Mistress Ford (Jean Rigby) and Mistress Page (Marie McLaughlin) the identical love letter.

The subplot about Miss Anne Page (sung by Sarah Fox) and her three suitors is very strong in this version. Hers is the best music for solo voice, and hers is also the best voice by an embarassing margin. The opera is famous for incorporating the melody and text of "Greensleeves," and giving it to Mistress Ford to sing.

The English go with their strengths which are acting and ensemble. In this opera are a good number of minor roles and chorus, all very well acted.

Our Sir John is a comb-over in spats with a waist that is two yards around. The final scene in the forest is lovely, with a large ensemble to frighten the would be lover in antlers. It is simply the sweetest opera I have ever seen.

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