The action moves from Shakespeare's times to the prudish nineteen fifties when
the aristocracy was disappearing, the upper middle class was gaining money and power, the Board of Censors was excessively puritan,
but there was quite a lot was going on behind the curtains and under the
bed sheets. Brigitte Reiffenstuel's costumes for the ladies are a sample of the haute couture of the
time; the second scene of the first act takes place in a
quintessential British restaurant such as Simpson's-on-the-Strand. This
may just seem to be gimmicks -- eg for the last ten years in Vienna, Falstaff has been set in the nineteen
sixties [A Perfect Falstaff,
28 February 2010] -- but Carsen and
Harding develop an interestingapproach to one of the best 'comedies in music' of the nineteenth century.
This Falstaff is
not -- as generally performed -- a 'comic' opera, full of gags and with a very fast rhythm where Verdi's intention is to make the audience laugh. Boito (the author of the libretto) and Verdi labelled Falstaff a 'lyriccomedy in three acts', not a 'comic opera' or 'opera
buffa' for a good reason. Falstaff is a serious opera turned upside down or reversed: the
ageing protagonist is looking at the intrigues of life with melancholy, irony and detachment. It is also the only Verdi opera
where there are outright erotic expressions, as seen through the memory of the protagonist in his last attempt to
seduce a woman, through the very carnal love of a young couple as well as through the games of a
middle-aged husband and wife in search of new tricks.
Harding emphasizes the score's lyricalmoments, where C is the key tonality and old
musical elements (polyphony and fugue) are updated, anticipating twentieth century music (even that of Berg and Zimmermann). The orchestra follows Harding very well in showing the
intricacies of the score. The conductor also has a first rate cast to work with. Ambrogio Maestri is probably the
best Falstaff on the world scene. The 'merry wives' of Windsor (Carmen Giannattasio, Daniela Barcellona and Laura
Polverelli) are all top-notch, with their 'chit chat' anticipating Strauss.
There were ten minutes
of applause at the curtain calls and ovations for Carsen and Harding, even
though in the foyer some old timers regretted the approach and recalled
funnier and less sexyproductions.