Falstaff in Amsterdam

Can the quality of the orchestral playing can make a difference in the opera house? The question was put to the test during my recent trip to Germany and the Netherlands. At two of my stops world famous orchestras were in the pit. I have already observed  (blog of 1 July 2014) that the Leipzig Gewandhaus made a major contribution to the excitement but also sensibility of the performance of Die Frau ohne Schatten in that city. With the Concertgebouw engaged by the Netherlands Opera for their presentation of Falstaff, the same occurred but perhaps not so obviously. That is because the miracles of Verdi ‘s score are less obvious, more nuanced. Apart from Ford’s jealousy aria, which could have come out of Don Carlos, and perhaps the set pieces for the lovers which, though light and lyrical, are written in a traditional mode, most of the music is made up of fragments, capturing the characters’ personality and antics. As such it requires delicacy as well as a precise relationship with the comic action on the stage. Here, under the baton of Daniele Gatti, it got both.

Some may be surprised by my assertion that Falstaff is a difficult opera to stage. I believe that to be the case because it is more than a simple comedy. While it breathes life and vitality, it also gets us to reflect in a rounded way on human beings, their foibles and desires. We must see that Falstaff has dignity and vulnerability as well as a flashy coarseness. Robert Carsen’s production caught most of this, but at times I felt that there was too much stage business which was distracting. Apart from a weak Ford (Serban Vasile who was engaged for only the last performance in the run), the cast was largely satisfactory. Ambrogio Maestri is a very well known exponent of the title role, having sung it over 200 times,  and that might not to be his advantage. While he is vocally strong, his over- familiarity with the part leads to some lack of spontaneity.