Falstaff (4 stars)

Falstaff

Roland Wood as Falstaff / credit: Julie Howden

International Festival production overcomes practical challenges with a masterful and humorous take on Verdi's final opera

Back in July, for the first run of Glasgow-born director Sir David McVicar's affectionate new production of Falstaff in his home city, Scottish Opera's outdoor performances of Verdi's last opera no doubt had their challenges. Conceived as a co-production with Santa Fe Opera (which also performs outdoors albeit in the more predictable climes of New Mexico), McVicar's latest Falstaff has now been brought inside for Edinburgh International Festival's opening week. With challenges anew, not least missing a proper full house due to the disparate limited audience numbers, a major dilemma is what to do with the orchestra in times of social distancing.

The usual pit is a non-starter, so placing the players at the rear of the Festival Theatre's vast stage provided a solution that will no doubt improve as time goes on. After its opening night interval, Verdi's colourful scoring was heard with greater clarity and definition than it had been in the more muffled sounds of Acts 1 and 2. Although balance was elusive when the full ensemble was singing, the upside came in focussing on the solo singers. While Roland Wood as Falstaff may have looked as if he was about to give birth to a small horse, he was a total master of the role, both vocally and in his finely tuned interpretation of an ageing wannabee Lothario.

Within the confident quartet of merry Windsor ladies, led by Elizabeth Llewellyn's cleverly scheming Alice Ford, and Sioned Gwen Davies as an assured Meg Page, it was soprano Gemma Summerfield's beautifully sung Nannetta that lingers in the mind, along with the melodramatic machinations of Louise Winter's Mistress Quickly. Bringing out the Shakespeare/Verdi wit and humour were Jamie MacDougall as a Scottish Bardolph and his sidekick Alastair Miles as Pistol, while Phillip Rhodes was exceptionally strong-voiced as Ford/Mr Brook.

Falstaff, Festival Theatre, Tuesday 10, Thursday 12, Saturday 14 August, 7.15pm, £36–£41.

Falstaff

  • 4 stars

Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic comedy* Falstaff *receives a brand-new staging by Sir David McVicar, conducted by Stuart Stratford. Incorrigible rake, freeloader, past-it playboy – Sir John Falstaff needs a ruse so that he can continue his life of excess. He decides to try his luck with two of Windsor’s upstanding married…