Falstaff - Metropolitan Opera, 12/9/2013
Maestri, Oropesa, Meade, Cano, Blythe, Fanale, Vasile / Levine
As many around the world may discover today, there have been few shows in Met history as thoroughly joyous and satisfying as this one. James Levine seems again miraculously at the peak of his powers, the cast -- particularly Ambrogio Maestri and the women -- is a treat for the ear both solo and in ensemble, and director Robert Carsen, whose first Met masterpiece (yes, that just-retired Onegin, though it was even better before the changes for broadcast) never quite got him the esteem he deserved, responds to Verdi and Boito's blend of humanity and clever construction with his own surplus of both. The play of his images of more-or-less-civilized plenty within a scene-for-scene visual symmetry worthy of some great Lulu staging makes for the finest production of Peter Gelb's tenure.
(Notice, that is, that Carsen's main visuals reprise themselves in reverse order around the central scene of the bourgeois Eden -- that is, the Ford family kitchen -- from which the fat knight is ejected. What we first see as Falstaff's bed, the stag's head at the restaurant entrance, and horse pictures on the club walls become... well, you'll see, but the fact that his grand white bed has not yet reappeared reminds eye as well as memory that Falstaff's trial -- and perhaps the only weak sequence of the show -- is but temporary.)
On this second night, the short Serban Vasile (in his Met debut!) cut an amusing but not inappropriate figure as Ford. Not sure how the originally-scheduled Franco Vassallo was supposed to look.
If you ever thought that Falstaff was dry, or that the modern Met couldn't do comedy, or that one would never hear a commanding Levine evening again... go and rejoice in how wrong all that was.
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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.