, July 2007
This 2006 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Falstaff is short on inspired performances, long on ingenuity. In a cast with few real standouts, the unusual production, Zubin Mehta’s jaunty conducting and the genius of Verdi carry the day.
Director Luca Ronconi sets the action in present-day England, and the transposition is surprisingly effective. Falstaff and his gang live in a crumbling squat. Bardolfo is a leather-clad punk with a mohawk, Pistola an aging biker. The Merry Wives are upper-middle-class suburban matrons; when the curtain rises in Act I, scene 2, we see Alice Ford moving her lawn. Meg Page and Dame Quickly, with their handbags, picture hats and stuffy attire, look like chairwomen of the Windsor Garden Society. Costume designer Carlo Maria Diappi clearly had a ball, but his work stops just short of cartoonish in order to make some clear points about class in present-day England. Set designer Margherita Palli goes for realism throughout, until an appropriately magical coup de theater during the Act III scene-change to Windsor Forest. (Falstaff’s elfin tormentors in the climax include a large contingent of heavily made-up, black-leather-clad Goth girls.)
In a rather ho-hum cast, the biggest disappointment is Ruggero Raimondi’s Falstaff. Raimondi may never have had the richest or most powerful voice, but he can usually be counted on to provide the insightful interpretations. The veteran bass-baritone has markedly diminished vocal resources now, and his low-key take on Falstaff fails to make up for that deficiency. One can still revel in his exemplary diction, but his characterization simply is not compelling. Manuel Lanza delivers a darkly handsome, well-acted Ford who lacks a strong, individualized timbre. In fact, the most arresting male voices in the caste are those of Gianluca Floris and Luigi Roni, as Bardolfo and Pistola, respectively, who make much of their supporting roles.
Barbara Fritolli seems to be enjoying herself as Alice, although she may not be ideally suited to the part. Her voice is at its most interesting in its low register, but this role allows for few descents into that territory. She also lacks a trill, and the role for Alice calls for several. Laura Polverelli’s Meg Page is adequate but wavers in tone, as does Elena Zilio’s Quickly. Zilio’s attempts at making booming, chesty sounds seem a bit strained. She’s fun to watch, however, her gaunt, bespectacled Quickly not the physical image of the part one is used to seeing; its far more Edna May Oliver than Mary Boland.
The Nannetta and Fenton are Mariola Cantarero and Daniil Shtoda, a plus-sized pair of love birds. Cantarero sings most of her role adequately, but her “Sul fil d’un soffio” is less than ravishing. High pianissimos do not come to her as effortlessly as they should. Shtoda, an exponent of the Loud and Louder school of singing, sounds like he’s trying to pull off a crude Corelli imitation. Uncomfortable and ungainly onstage, he keeps his eyes riveted on Mehta, even during the love scenes. Does this kind of provincial performance really have a place at the Maggio Musicale?