10 November 2013
Falstaff: The Keystone…Merry Wives of Windsor
Meanwhile, Mr. Ford has also got wind of Falstaff’s intentions and is determined to catch Falstaff (and his wife!) in their tryst. He arranges to have himself introduced to Falstaff under an assumed name and takes with him a gift of wine, which the intemperate Falstaff accepts with pleasure. He goes on to brag to his new benefactor of his upcoming conquest of Mrs. Ford, much to the well-disguised chagrin of her husband.
There’s a little side plot going on by this point, too. The Fords’ daughter Nannetta has been promised in marriage to the elderly (and wealthy) Dr. Cajus, but she is in love with the young and handsome (and presumably much less wealthy) Fenton. Her father sternly warns her against seeing Fenton, but her mother seems to tolerate her liaison quite well.
We cut to a bitter Falstaff trying to dry himself off, and Mrs. Quickly arrives to reassure him of Mrs. Ford’s affection and to arrange a midnight tryst in the park, near a tree named for the Black Huntsman. After much convincing, Falstaff agrees to go, dressed as the huntsman.
More preparations are underway on the other side of this latest ruse, however, with the preparation of costumes to make some of the party look like various spirits and fairies to give Falstaff a good fright. But wait! Yet more deceit, as Mr. Ford, determined to put an end to Nannetta’s wanderings, plans to marry her to the doctor while they are in costume in the park at midnight. Mrs. Ford, however, hatches her own plot with her friends to allow her daughter to marry young Fenton, arranging for him to wear the same monk costume that the doctor will be wearing, and arranging a surprising decoy to be dressed as yet another fairy queen (the costume of her daughter).
Ford sets about carrying out his own plan. He starts to marry the doctor and the fairy queen, when another couple emerges in costume, also wishing to be married. Mr. Ford obliges, only to discover that he has married his daughter to Fenton and the doctor to…Bardolfo, one of Falstaff’s [male] servants! [#TeamBardolfo I was compelled to tweet at this point, or as close to this point as good manners would allow.] Falstaff is happy to step back in, proclaiming that everything in the world is but a jest.
Well, I do go on about the twisting and turning plot, don’t I?! Shall I get to what ought to be the substance of a review? There was some excellent singing on stage, and more than a little bit of well-acted slapstick humour as well. I thought it got off to a slow start, as I didn’t really enjoy the songs of the first scene, and the slapstick was kind of understated, which is surely contraindicated. There is not much the company could do about the music — that’s Verdi’s fault — and I’m happy to be able to say that it got better, and quickly (yes, a reference to the character, too). The women and the men developing their respective plots to expose Falstaff gave us some lovely and upbeat tunes and chorus singing, which I always enjoy. Then when Mrs. Quickly went to Falstaff’s apartment to communicate Mrs. Ford’s "interest” in him, the slapstick qualities truly emerged with great aplomb. The husband’s posse’s search of the house looked like a scene directly out of the Keystone Cops, as they rushed from room to room, barely missing the object of their pursuit. The music and the singing from then on was quite interesting and enjoyable.
A special note for the sets. I often gauge my appreciation of the sets by the level of my desire to live within them. Not so much this time. The scenes in Falstaff’s apartment were kind of disappointing, and these elements were rearranged and added to for the interior of the Ford home. The addition of a staircase and a couple of pieces of furniture did improve it a bit. At the beginning of Act III — Falstaff’s drying off after his river adventure — I was blown away by a very simple, but beautiful and effective set. A series of wooden fences that offered places to hide behind and/or peek over, with a richly lit background. Very lovely. And then when Scene II of Act III began, I think I actually gasped aloud at the beauty of the solitary and majestic oak tree, again with only a richly lit screen in the back: perfect for the scene in the park at midnight.