Venice, La Fenice Theater

Having reached his last work, greens finally learn to have fun. He himself admits it in a letter: “I wrote for my pleasure and on my own. I enjoy making music without any plans and I don’t even know if I’ll finish it”. Thanks to Falstaff in short, he discovers that he can afford to laugh. Of the passions, in the first place. Then of the culture of the time, but also of himself and his own artistic creed (“art lies in this maxim: steal gracefully and in time”). Naturally, Verdi’s laugh is not a liberating laugh, but the melancholy smile of one who is ready to detach himself from life. And yet the old composer still has the courage to get involved. He constructs his latest score with reasoning, disenchantment and even a little cynicism, through the ironic recourse to the most diverse musical forms and structures. The incandescent melodism of the past thus gives way to the fragmentation and contrapuntal elegance in keeping with the new parodistic code. The irony of the quotation and intertextuality, cornerstones of twentieth-century art, find an archetype precisely in the allusions and multiple references present in Falstaff. Which can therefore be considered not only an emblem of the crisis affecting the fin de sièclebut also a work that through the parody of the tragic and the marginalization of the hero – reduced to a survivor, to a kind of scrap – comes to anticipate certain ghosts of the new century at the gates.

For Myung-Whun Chungwhich al La Fenice Theater directs the inaugural edition of the 2022/23 season, it seems that Verdi’s latest masterpiece instead has a predominantly retrospective dimension. The contrapuntal transparency and the complexity of the score, in the perspective of the Korean master, do not anticipate Stravinskij, Busoni or other twentieth-century authors. More than opening up to the new century, the Falstaff of Chung remains firmly anchored in the nineteenth century. The conductor unravels an exuberant and flowing narration, at times frenetic, and while not losing sight of the run-up to the rapid “molecular motion” of the score, he prefers the full and redundant sonorities of the more typical Verdi. At times the instrumentation is subjected to heaviness and dynamic forcing, leaving the desire for a more chamber-like articulation of the timbre textures. The sound seems disinclined to sense of humour, with panache and irony. The moments in which hints of twilight and nostalgic hues emerge are more focused. Naturally, the coordination of the rhythms, especially in relation to the stage, is always compact and tight. With the result, among other things, of leading the singing company to engage in commendable teamwork.

Without the need for stage tricks, Nicola Alaimo has the physique du role ideal for the part of Falstaff. The vocality is adequate, round and soft in the emission. In some moments, the tendency towards a certain histrionic emphasis and angry outbursts is to the detriment of the elegance and nobility which also belong to the character. In any case, Alaimo phrases very well, he knows how to play with the subtleties of the accent, with the hues of irony and bitter disillusionment. He has an excellent focus on the scenic word.
As Ford, Vladimir Stoyanov offers one of his best proofs. The voice is timbred and homogeneous in the whole extension, safe in the high notes. With accurate, incisive phrasing, and a carefully dosed accent, she outlines an introverted, grumpy character who never overdoes it. The monologue of the horns is excellent in every respect. from her, Selene Zanetti she is a credible Alice Ford thanks to the good stamping of the central register (on which the writing often gravitates), but also to the interpreter’s ability to express that mixture of languor, malice and passionate energy which is the character’s hallmark.
The loving couple is also appreciable. For René Barbera, the Fenton part is kind of a walk. Accustomed to much more arduous roles in terms of virtuosity and range, the Mexican-American tenor has easy play in asserting the pleasantness of a lyric-light timbre, an impeccable singing line, always on the breath, and an appropriate chiaroscuro game. Suitably sentimental is Nannetta by Catherine Hallendowed with a fresh, ductile vocality, well controlled in the emissions, clear in the yarns.
Sarah Mingardo, then, spares us the continuous and sometimes grotesque changes of register and color that a certain tradition has reserved for Mrs Quickly and finally gives us back a witty, elegant gossip, extraneous to gigionesque and caricatured intentions. The surrounding parts are also well assembled: from the punctual and incisive Meg of Veronica Simeoni to the Cajus outlined with a parodistic measure from Christian Colliato the scoundrels Bardolfo and Pistola well characterized by Cristiano Olivieri And Francesco Milanese.

If everyone acts like consummate actors, the merit is also of Adrian Noble. The British director boasts a great deal of experience in prose theater (he was artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company) and his operatic stagings are inevitably influenced by this extraction. There is no doubt that Noble knows how to do theater. And in this Venetian production he does it in a completely traditional way. Ambient Falstaff at the time of Shakespaere in a frame that recalls the mythical Elizabethan Globe (the scenes are by Dick Birdwhile the beautiful costumes are signed by Clancy), thus resorting to the expedient of the theater within the theatre. It will not be new, but the game works and is managed at its best: in the first act we witness the staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the presence of Shakespeare himself. The direction is tastefully maintained on a playful, lively register, with an action well in tune with the flow of the story and the music. At times, if you will, the scene is a little too crowded, but the result – thanks also to the lights of Jean Kalman And Fabio Barettin – is overall pleasant and suggestive. It is not said that the new productions must necessarily offer innovative solutions or new perspectives. Sometimes even the return to tradition has its reason. In fact, the public appreciates and welcomes all the creators of the show with enthusiasm. Ovations especially for Chung and Alaimo.

Teatro La Fenice – Season 2022/23
Lyrical comedy in three acts by Arrigo Boito
Music by Giuseppe Verdi

Sir John Falstaff Nicola Alaimo
Ford Vladimir Stoyanov
Fenton René Barbera
Doctor Cajus Christian Collia
Bardolph Cristiano Olivieri
Pistol Francesco Milanese
Mrs Alice Ford Selene Zanetti
Nannetta Catherine Hall
Mrs Quickly Sarah Mingardo
Mrs Meg Page Veronica Simeoni

Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice
Director Myung-Whun Chung
Choir master Alfonso Caiani
Direction Adrian Noble
Scenes Dick Bird
Costumes Clancy
Lights Jean Kalman And Fabio Barettin
Associate director and choreographic movements Joanne Pearce

New staging of the La Fenice Theater Foundation
Venice, 18 November 2022


Venice, La Fenice Theater – Falstaff