Opera Australia, Melbourne December 2014
To the claustrophobic scarlet pit that is Melbourne’s Arts Centre for Verdi’s take on Sir John, a rather broad and heavy handed work drawing mostly from the plonking Merry Wives of Windsor with only salted bits from the history plays.
First done at La Scala in 1893, this is a radically economical opera in structure: no overture, no recitative, almost no arias; melodies that rattle along, into each other and most formalities discarded as it cuts to the Garter Inn without ado.
Shakespeare’s Falstaff is big in every sense but here he is merely fat, “not a formidable adversary” as Garry Wills puts it, but audacious, comically aroused and a bit of a dill. Warwick Fyfe, who is always good, makes something of Sir John’s cabaret turn and manages to hint that if you “banish plump Jack…you banish all the world.”
Christian Badea managed the chaotic score and Simon Phillips produced some very nice scenes, such as Falstaff clambering out of his river- soaked laundry basket, warming his chills in the late sun and mulled wine, and the final romp in Windsor Park where Sir John hears the chimes at midnight and eventually admits to foolishness, while laughing last and best, staging a Rodney-Dangerfield ‘throw’ to the concluding rollicking, polyphonous sing-song. This is not great opera but done fairly well by all.