It’s been a couple years since the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre made us laugh.
That was the Spring of 2010 with the batty tale of Die Fledermaus. Since then, we have been in the worlds of Romeo et Juliette and other typically tragic opera fare. So, it’s good to lighten up and finally be in the company of Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff, a comic opera about a character very much beholden to his large appetites and large ego, which often get the better of him.
Like several other Verdi operas, Falstaff is based on a work of William Shakespeare, this time a character that appears in the history play Henry IV and the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor. Falstaff draws largely from Windsor, telling the tale of the rotund, jovial, though somewhat pathetic thief’s attempts to woo the lovely Alice from her husband Ford.
Taking on a comedy again under the direction of Richard Kagey gives the UK opera singers a chance to show off a different set of theatrical skills from what we are used to, and chief among the beneficiaries is Jonathan R. Green in the title role. (This opera is double cast. The performers reviewed here will appear again Saturday night, and a different cast will present the Saturday and Sunday matinees.)
Green’s gravely baritone suits the well-worn thief, and he seems to relish the opportunity to imbue his somewhat delusional character with swagger and naked ego. The best demonstration of this comes right before intermission when Falstaff emerges prepared to woo Alice in a red outfit that looks like a Valentine card factory exploded on him. But in Green’s performance, if he feels at all ridiculous – or self aware – we never see it. Though Falstaff is a drunk and a thief and a glutton and a lecher and a liar and a philanderer, Green gives a performance that makes us root for him.
Of course, if we are rooting for Falstaff, there has to be someone to root against, and that would be Ford. Yes, Falstaff is trying to steal his wife, and Ford is a much more honest man than Falstaff. But in Michael S. Preacely’s performance, we see an obnoxious sense of self righteousness in Ford. We also hear some wonderful singing, particularly toward intermission as Ford vows vegeance against Falstaff. But we’re sitting there thinking someone need to take Ford down a notch or two, and of course they will because this is such a prankster comedy.
This being the first comedy in a while, we get to see new sides of other performers as well, including Catherine Clarke Nardolillo, who gives us some of the vocal flourishes we heard in the fall 2010 production of La Boheme, but it is really delightful to hear her witch voice. Holly Dodson is a real comic find as Mistress Quickly, and Elizabeth Maurey makes a sterling UK Opera debut as Nannetta, letting us hear a voice that is full and flowing, and one we’d like to hear more of. She and Luther Lewis III as Fenton have the most beautiful pure singing of the evening.
Under the direction of John Nardolillo, Catherine’s husband, the UK Symphony also adjusted its tone, playing with a light touch.
As much fun as the cast had acting they also seemed to delight in some of Verdi’s flourishes with the score such as the fuge that closes the opera.
In What’s Opera Doc?, Bugs Bunny asked, “What did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?”
Falstaff reminds us that sometimes, that’s exactly what we can expect.