Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In On FALSTAFF at The Met Opera

Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In On FALSTAFF at The Met Opera

Baritone Ambrogio Maestri brings his larger-than-life portrayal of the title role back for the first time since his Met role debut in the 2013-14 season. Robert Carsen's insightful production-which moves the action to postwar England in the 1950s-features an exceptional cast that includes soprano Ailyn Pérez as Alice Ford and soprano Golda Schultz as Nannetta.

World Premiere: Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 1893. A deeply human comedy full of humor and genuine emotion, Verdi's last opera is a splendid finale to an unparalleled career in the theater. The story is an amalgamation of scenes from Shakespeare, primarily drawn from the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor. It centers on the remarkable personality of Sir John Falstaff, one of literature's most compelling characters. With a supremely well-crafted score, which has long commanded the respect even of Verdi's critics, it is an astounding work and among the greatest operatic comedies of all time.

In a remarkable career spanning six decades, Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) composed 28 operas, at least half of which are at the core of today's repertoire. Falstaff was his final work for the stage. The remarkable librettist Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) was also a composer (his opera Mefistofele, based on Goethe's Faust, premiered in 1868), as well as a journalist and critic.

The opera is set in and around The Town of Windsor, west of London, in the first decades of the 15th century. The current Met production places the action in mid-20th century England, after the Second World War-an era when long-established social norms were rapidly changing and the aristocracy lost much of their wealth and influence.

Falstaff marks a stylistic departure for Verdi and occupies a category of its own, without parallels in the history of the genre. The musical ideas come fast and abundantly, moving from one to the next organically and without discernible breaks. The orchestra carries the story and occasionally makes literal comments on the action. At other times, it represents the overall spirit of the proceedings, such as in the remarkable prelude to Act III, which contains all the sweeping crescendo of a Rossini overture in less than a minute.

Let's see what critics have to say!

Anthony Tommasini, NY Times: The noted British conductor Richard Farnes, who was music director of Opera North in England for 12 years, led this "Falstaff" in his Met debut, with mixed results. Stretches of Verdi's miraculous score had élan, color and clarity. But there were glitches and moments of poor ensemble. The performance may settle in. And opera lovers, especially those wary of updating, should not miss this inspired production of Verdi's final opera.

David Salazar, Opera Wire: Act two, scene one and Act three, scene two were likely the best overall in terms of finding this balance. Farnes was able to move from a frenzied reading of Ford's monologue to a whimsical coda between the two men as they exchanged pleasantries. The final scene of the opera moved from very lyrical rapture to rollicking fun in the massive choral pieces. One of the most memorable passages in the entire performance was Falstaff's entrance in the second scene of Act three.The Andante sostenuto, with its repeated 32nd note passages, was shaped with a tense crescendo with the first three repetitions before dimineundoing; a sudden Fortissimo jolted the listener, amplifying Falstaff's own sense of fear at this strange surrounding.

George Grella, NY Classical Review: Conductor Richard Farnes made his Met debut and without doing anything particularly noticeable or unusual delivered a superb performance. The orchestra was bright, muscular and agile. Between the pit and the singers, this was as musically tight and precise an opening night as one has heard in recent seasons.

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