‘Falstaff’ (Scottish Opera) | Review By Lewis C. Baird

Theatre is back at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre with Scottish Opera’s production of ’Falstaff’ as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. 

Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’ is adapted from Shakespeare’s’ ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’. The story follows Sir John Falstaff, who needs a ruse so that he can continue his life of excess. He decides to try his luck with two of Windsor’s upstanding married women, writing them identical love letters in the hope of seducing them – and of bagging some cash from their rich husbands. But sly Alice Ford and shrewd Meg Page quickly spot his scheme and resolve to teach the drunken rogue a lesson he won’t quickly forget. 

Roland Wood indulges in the comedy as Sir John Falstaff. Roland’s portrayal of Falstaff could be forgiven for a commedia dell’arte character, which fits perfectly into the comic tone of this opera. Wood also shows great versatility when it comes to the more touching moments of Falstaff’s journey. Elizabeth Llewellyn delivers great vocals while suggesting strong modernity within her portrayal of the matriarchal Alice Ford. The openness and presence of this character engages the audience instantly. Elizabeth’s approach to this character could easily reflect inspiration from the rise in strong female characters we are seeing through all mediums of entertainment. 

Gemma Summerfield as Nannetta and Elgan Llŷr Thomas as Fenton deliver the true romance in this production, these two performers both supply stunning vocals and onstage chemistry, it’s easy to root for these two characters to be together. 

Sioned Gwen Davies as Meg Page and Louise Winter as Mistress Quickly, do well to embrace the farcical scenes and deliver great vocals as the supporting characters to Llewellyn’s Alice. 

Philip Rhodes as Ford/Mr Brooks supplies tremendous vocals; his vibrant baritone voice fills the socially distant auditorium. Rhodes delivers the complexity of this character’s journey perfectly and his dynamic with Wood’s Falstaff was great to watch. Aled Hall supplies a frantic madness as Dr Caius, Hall does well to capture and wring out every last opportunity of comedy from Caius’ short appearances. 

Jamie MacDougall as Bardolph and Alistair Miles as Pistol are the main comedic force within this production, their physical and vocal performances are what really tickle the audience.  

Fergus Wood as Robin, although does not speak, still supplies us a rather emotional blow in the final moments of the performance. Fergus’ ability to have the audience engage with Robin while having little stage time nor any dialogue, is very admirable. 

Sir David McVicar’s direction for this production is clearly to contemporize Giuseppe Verdi’s final opera and make it suited to a 2021 audience, which in terms of accessibility he seems to have pulled it off (especially for this first-time opera goer). While the execution is exquisite in terms of spectacle, you can’t help but feel that the comedy within this production is lacking. There are some great physical comedic moments, however Verdi’s work does offer the chance for more, especially the scene within Ford’s Garden. That being said, McVicar’s design for this production is stunning, especially the mystical Herne’s Oak sequence, amplified by Lizzie Powell’s atmospheric lighting design. 

Scottish Opera’s production of ‘Falstaff’ is one which will amuse audiences of all backgrounds, with its rich characters, varied music and stylish direction. However, at points you do question whether there has been a missed opportunity in embracing Verdi’s suggestion of a more farcical affair? Nevertheless, this is a great operatic production which many will appreciate for its contemporary and accessible outlook.  

Rating: 4 out of 5.

‘Falstaff’ is playing Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre Sun 8 – Sat 14 Aug. (Tickets are sold out)

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