Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 23, 2021

REVIEW: Berkshire Opera Festival, Falstaff

Berkshire Opera Festival, Great Barrington, MA
through August 27, 2021
by Michael J. Moran

After opening their sixth season with Tom Cipullo’s somber “Glory Denied” last month, BOF closes it with something completely different, 80-year-old Giuseppe Verdi’s final opera and only successful comedy, “Falstaff.” Based on Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2,” Arrigo Boito’s libretto develops its literally larger-than-life title character more fully than any of those plays.

Sebastian Catana
A vain, boastful, and overweight knight, Sir John Falstaff begins the opera drinking at the Garter Inn with other lowlifes, but after his attempted seductions of two prosperous wives are humiliatingly foiled, he begins to change his ways. Romanian-born baritone Sebastian Catana is a hoot as the ne’er-do-well hero, moving with buffoonish grace and enunciating the Italian text with clarion gusto as he wins the audience’s sympathy long before he leads the opera’s exuberant final number, an astonishing “Fugue” on the words “We’re all fools!”

The entire cast seems inspired by Catana to the same level of commitment and excellence. Soprano Tamara Wilson and mezzo-soprano Joanne Evans are feisty and engaging as “merry” wives Alice Ford and Meg Page. Mezzo Alissa Anderson portrays the ringleader of their avenging schemes, Mistress Quickly, with comic glee.

Baritone Thomas Glass is poignant as Alice’s almost-cuckolded husband, soprano Jasmine Habersham exudes winsome charm as the Fords’ daughter Nannetta, and tenor Jonas Hacker is ardently persistent as her suitor Fenton. Tenor Max Jacob Zander’s Bardolfo and bass Jeremy Harr’s Pistola, Falstaff’s robbing henchmen, and tenor Lucas Levy’s Dr. Caius, their aggrieved victim, are laugh riots all.   

BOF Artistic Director and Co-Founder Brian Garman leads a vigorous account of Verdi’s brilliant score by an animated BOF orchestra in the Mahaiwe’s clear acoustic. Lively direction by Joshua Major, spare but elegant scenic design by Stephen Dobay and lighting design by Alex Jainchill, and imaginative costume design by Charles Caine, along with projections of Cori Ellison’s often hilarious English translation, keeps a tight focus on the characters and their antics.

This jubilant and life-affirming production is a happy ending for BOF’s sixth season and shouldn’t be missed by discerning opera lovers.