On explaining his new production of Verdi’s Falstaff for the Deutsche Oper, director Christof Loy says he was influenced by Brecht-ian heritage in Berlin, by the fact that this year is Verdi’s jubilee and by the role aging plays in one’s relationship with society (as related to the fact that Verdi composed Falstaff as an old man, that he founded the Casa Verdi for retired musicians and by Daniel Schmid’s documentary “Il Baccio di Tosca”). Hmm. He also says that he had to find the courage to stage comedy these days. In other words, comedy is not really his thing. One could say that it is not really Germany’s thing. In Italy, I would rather believe that a director would need some guts to stage… a tragedy with philosophical and intellectual undertones – the audience would take rather naturally to comedy. And I don’t mean that Italian comedies are superficial; on the contrary, the most famous examples of Italian cinema show that Italians have an instinct for finding the hidden tear behind the laughs… or the laugh behind the tears. The keyword here is “naturalness”.
If someone has to explain something to you, then the concept is not very clear. As much as I have found the bogus documentary shown before the opera probably the funniest thing this evening, was it really necessary? Well, it was – otherwise, you would not understand that the action takes place in the Casa Verdi… do you see my point? And do you really need to know that? Well, if the point had been naturally conveyed through the staging rather than upon the staging, no… In other words, there were two events in place this evening: Verdi’s Falstaff and the director’s thoughts inspired by Verdi’s biography. In act I, these events often collided in an uncomfortable way. Characters are all showed as pensioners in Casa Verdi and they all (except Nannetta and Fenton) look elderly. As the plot begins to unfold, the action brings them back to their youth. It is not clear if everybody knows that this is a play in the play and their rejuvenescence is only a symbol of the way they feel or if the play is really the play. I can live with that. However, from act II one, Casa Verdi pretty much disappears and everybody is in tenue de soirée, there are waiters, champagne aplenty and it looks a lot like Robert Carsen’s let’s-make-it-chic staging for La Scala, only more intelligently and efficiently directed. In the closing scene, it seems that someone thought “Oops… what about the Casa Verdi?!” and everybody puts on their elderly-people costumes again. I mean: I would have enjoyed either a Herheim-like “Casa Verdi” staging or a Claudette Colbert/Don Ameche glamorous production, but it seems that a decision has not been made. In any case, I like Christof Loy and (especially from act II on), I’ve had fun with the beautiful sets and costumes, the excellent Personenregie and some intelligent/elegant ideas. Everyone else seems to have found no problem in the incoherent concept – it’s been a while since I’ve last seen a boo-less opening night at the Deutsche Oper.
Actually, my problem lies rather in the musical side of the performance. The program book says, at some point, that “the orchestra leads the stage direction”. Exactly. In Falstaff, the orchestra does not only tell the story, it embodies the story. Every little dot in the score IS the story. If a note goes astray or unnoticed, you’ve missed part of the story. This requires a very specific orchestral sound – clear, transparent but very much present, as you would find at La Scala – a Swiss-clockmaker precision in balancing stage and pit and urgent conducting that will keep ebullience up to the last bar. The Deutsche Oper Orchestra is very German in sound, but some conductors have made wonders in giving it an Italian soul. Unfortunately, the house’s GMD has never been one of them. This evening, for instance, the thick and indistinct orchestral sound did not seem to convey any theatrical point rather than accompanying the singers (or drowning them at many occasions). And that is a no-go in this score. Pity, for there was a good cast (both in musical and dramatic terms).
Barbara Haveman, a singer I had never heard before, was an almost ideal Alice – clear-toned, nimble, spirited and charming. The always efficient Jana Kurucová was an exceptionally pleasant and attractive Meg. The fact that I mention her just right after the prima donna shows how good she was. Elena Tsallagova was a healthy, creamy-toned Nanetta who produced ideally ethereal pianissimi in her aria. Dana Beth Miller relished the upfront chest-voice routine as Ms. Quickly with aplomb and it must be mentioned that the gear change to the middle register was expertly managed too. Joel Prieto (Fenton) took some time to warm but once he got there sang with abandon and good taste. I am not sure if Ford is a very good role for Michael Nagy – he seemed a bit overparted and sounded often monochromatic, but that one color was pleasant enough. Replacing Markus Brück (although the Deutsche Oper explains that he was sick, this must be a very long disease, for the replacement appears both in the opening film and in every rehearsal photo), Noel Bouley proved to have the necessary charisma and dramatic engagement. He competently embraced the director’s idea of showing that Falstaff never let the child in himself go and that this makes him special. He has a forceful but not truly large voice, good low and high notes, but he does not yet vocally inhabit the text as a singer with long experience in the role would do. I have recently seen Ambrogio Maestri sing it and, well, I’m afraid I was spoiled by the experience… Last but not least, Thomas Blondelle, Gideon Poppe and Marko Mimica really made something of the roles of Doctor Caius, Bardolfo and Pistola.