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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Opera Review: The Fat Knight Rises

The Martina Arroyo Foundation presents Falstaff.
Beer blast: this would have made old Jack happy.
Sadly, Falstaff Beer went out of production in 2005.

On Friday, July 13th, famed soprano Martina Arroyo presented Verdi's Falstaff at Hunter College's Sylvia and Danny Kaye Theater, as the first of two operas in this year's Prelude to Performance series, the culmination of a series of professional-grade workshops for young singers presented by the Martina Arroyo Foundation.

Sir John has been absent from the operatic stage in New York for a few years. If one is to judge from the tumultuous reception given to Robert Kerr's nimble performance in the title role, the fat knight remains a beloved figure, the center of Verdi's last (and most unexpected) opera.

Mr. Kerr is a talented young singer, well below the age at which most baritones tackle the enormity that is Falstaff. Decked out in trad Elizabethan costume (with a mustache and beard that, wittily, resembled Verdi's own) the singer rollocked through the part, bringing weight to the three big monologues and an unexpectedly skilled falsetto when the score called for it.

He was surrounded by a strong cast. Matthew Gamble was a sonorous Ford, at his best when towering with rage in his Act II aria. Brandon Snook brought a diamond-hard character tenor to the role of Dr. Cajus. Youngchul Park showed promise as Fenton, overcoming early nerves to sing rich, lyric duets with his Nannetta (Nicole Haslett.)

By necessity, Pistola and Bardolfo are lesser characters in this opera. Christian Zaremba and Christopher Longo (respectively) made the most of their comic opportunities, with roustabout physical comedy and fine bass voices. Mr. Zaremba, a fight captain at the Metropolitan Opera, was a kinetic presence in the Act II mayhem that results in Falstaff's laundry-basket exit.

The women are central to Falstaff. Ms. Haslett was the best of them, rendering Nannetta's freshness and sensual beauty in the two all-too-brief duets she shares with Fenton in Act I. The forest invocation nearly brought down the house, with agile, silvery singing that floated magically in the chilled air of the auditorium.

Nichole Ashley Peyrigne has an impressive mezzo tht lay just a little high for Quickly. She was comfortable in the comic patter and less so with the big low lying note in "Reverre-e-nza!" Allyson Herman was a strong, decisive Alice, more than a match for Falstaff's lust and Ford's jealousy. Finally, Kiri Parker had less to do as Meg Page, but displayed good comic instincts in the smaller part.

Willie Anthon Walters conducted a brisk performance that kept rolling merirly along despite the occasional audible difficulty from the orchestra. There were some lovely textures in the forest scene. The percolating final fugue, led off by Mr. Kerr and reaching a complicated polytonal climax was Verdi's way of ending the opera with a virtuoso display and a smile. Like old Falstaff's false belly, it came off perfectly.

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