Peabody's 'Falstaff' adds to rage for Shakespeare Music review

November 11, 1996|By Cary Smith | Cary Smith,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Suddenly Shakespeare is all the rage.

The Bard is back at your local multiplex with "Romeo and Juliet" and Al Pacino's take on Richard III. "Twelfth Night" and "Hamlet" are soon to follow. Peabody Opera Theatre gets in on the act with its current production of "Falstaff," based on the portly and port-drinking knight of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and "Henry IV."

This is, of course, Shakespeare as filtered through the Italian of librettist Arrigo Boito, and the focus is on the great music of Giuseppe Verdi. After the darkness of his previous opera, "Otello," and indeed of most of his output, who would have guessed that Verdi would have turned to this philosophical comedy as his final operatic statement?

"Falstaff" is no "stand and deliver" stage work, where all the action screeches to a halt and the performers belt out one hit after another, like some opera house version of Camden Yards. Verdi left no room for applause, almost as if taking a cue from the music dramas of his contemporary, Richard Wagner.

It becomes essential for any "Falstaff" production to concentrate on pace, and Peabody Opera's director Roger Brunyate and conductor Hajime Teri Murai have accomplished this beautifully. This is no easy task, with as many as 10 principal singers maneuvering through James Fouchard's rustic bi-level, multi-hued sets. Most operas contain ensembles, but this one is an ensemble from curtain to curtain.

Nevertheless, from the outset, Dae San No manages to bring the focus to the title figure. His Falstaff is comic but not caricature, even though you'll hear more comments about weight than at a Jenny Craig convention. No's performance consistently emphasizes the lyrical, not the declamatory, nature of his moralizing knight. His second-act duet with the excellent Chen-Ye Yuan, as Ford, could easily descend into slapstick but never does. Instead, attention is drawn to the snippets of Verdian melody as lovely as anything in "Aida" or "Don Carlo."

There are standouts on the female side as well, particularly Carole Tracie Luck as an authoritative Alice Ford and Soo-Yun Chung as Mistress Quickly, whose "Dalle due alle tre" in the second act initiates the production's most delightful scene. Hyunah Yu and Vijay Joshua Ghosh as the young lovers Nannetta and Fenton are appropriately pure, both in tone and demeanor, but at times they are barely discernible above the Peabody Orchestra.

John Lehmeyer's costumes complement the muted surroundings, although his get-up for one of Falstaff's followers, Pistola, looks like a refugee from "Waterworld."

"Falstaff's" last scene, set in a forest with various nymphs and elves, is the most difficult to stage, and it was this performance's least successful.

Crowd control is a problem in Peabody's intimate space and, even in the great final fugue, the energy that marked earlier ensembles seemed to flag a bit. But Peabody's "Falstaff" was enchanting, a mature production of Verdi's most mature composition and an essential addition to this fall's marathon of Shakespeare.

Pub Date: 11/11/96

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