Sunday, February 04, 2007


I have dropped from heaven into Bryn Terfel's Falstaff at the Wiener Staatsoper.

Verdi´s Falstaff is a one off. Verdi hadn´t written anything since Otello, and his style of opera in the purely Italian tradition was out of favor. Wagner and leitmotifs ruled the day. So the old man wrote his only opera buffa just to show what he could do. Falstaff is a symphonic opera with leitmotifs and all, but not to worry. Just sit back and enjoy. It won´t remind you of anything else by Verdi. Mozart? Or Pergolesi, perhaps.

I have seen lots of Falstaffs--Shakespeare's play, Nicolai's Merry Wives, Verdi's opera and last year´s Sir John in Love--but this was by far the best. The production used a hydrolic platform to change scenes quickly. When the platform is raised, we are in Falstaff's tavern. When it is lowered, we are in the world of the women he is trying to seduce, or the forest. The wait between scenes was minimal.

Only one thing was mildly disturbing--Falstaff and his hangers on were dressed in clownish pink and orange clothing, in sharp contrast to the formal fin de ciecle outfits of the wives and their husbands. Admitedly one would not have wanted to miss the bizarre courtship outfit of our hero, done in pink stripes. Falstaff becomes a kind of comedia del arte figure here, and not what he sees himself as--a nobleman, war hero and former companion of the king.

We would never have imagined such delicacy, such teetering/tottering on the edge of magnificence, such hideousness of figure combined with such nobility of spirit. The thing about great weight is that you need to balance it over your feet so as not to fall over. We will not divulge from where this knowledge comes. Bryn built an entire characterization from this, making him seem deliciously silly. And, of course, as a singer Bryn can do no wrong. This portrayal was magnificent and sweet.

Obviously he should pursue Dame Quickly, Janina Baechle. She is the woman for him. For the first time I noticed that at the end Falstaff sings "Reverenza" to her.

It was a very professional ensemble cast with pleasing performances by the young couple Fenton, Saimir Pirgu, and Nanetta, Ileana Tonca. The conductor Asher Fisch seems to have thought Pergolesi, too.

It was the most completely satisfying Falstaff I have seen. My luck is definitely improving.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1890-1910]

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