Richard Jones chose to set his 2009 production of Verdi’s Falstaff in Windsor in 1946. I suspect it’s driven by similar reasoning to Robert Carsen’s 1950s production. Falstaff plays out very nicely as a conflict between an older order of things and a more thrusting kind of bourgeoisie and 1940s/50s England works well for that. The “just after the war” setting also allows Jones to present Fenton as a G.I. which adds another twist to Ford’s distrust of him. Although the jumping off point for Jones and Carsen is the same the results are quite different. Jones seems to be operating in the traditions of English farce, à la Brian Rix, or maybe Carry on films,which works pretty well. Falstaff is a farce rather than a comedy of manners. So, besides the obligatory entrances and exits, couples caught in flagrante etc we also get a certain geometric precision in the blocking that borders on choreography. In Act 1 Scene 2, for instance, the ladies rather military perambulation in a garden of very precisely aligned cabbages is doubled up by Brownies and a rowing four countermarching.
There are some other neat touches in the production too. Mistress Quickly is apparently a WAAC officer (which makes Marie-Nicole Lemieux look curiously like Simon Russell-Beale playing Widmerpool). The Garter inn in Act 3 Scene 1 is framed by a bridal wear shop and a joke shop and in the final scene the masqueraders seem to represent film characters of the period. Ford, for example, is Count Dracula. So, not overly serious and very, very English.
One might have thought that such a concept would have steered Glyndebourne to an English cast but not a bit of it. Although Falstaff himself is played by the admirable Chris Purves, the rest of the cast is international indeed. That said, Purves rightly takes centre stage. It’s a good role for him. His comic timing is impeccable and the more lyrical parts of the role sit nicely for his sweet upper register. He also manages the contrasts between over confident Falstaff and rather pathetic Falstaff with some delicacy. He gets a very impressive fat suit too. It still looks convincing with his shirt off.
Besides Lemieux, who is ideal for the rather Hattie Jacques like Mistress Quickly, the ladies include Jenn Holloway as Meg Page and Dina Kuznetsova as Alice Ford. They make a well balanced pair with cute acting and great ensemble singing. The lovers are played by Bülent Bezdüz and Adriana Kučerova. They absolutely look and sound the part. Their interactions are playful and the “moon” motif mini duets sound absolutely lovely. Tassis Christoyannis is a tall and imposing Ford. His performance does seem, in a weird way, to prefigure his appearance as dracula at the end. It’s something about the eyes. Vladimir Jurowski conducts with the LPO in the pit and gives a detailed, rhythmically lively account of the score which works really well with the patter type numbers and supposrts the humour without being heavy handed.
It’s a self consciously stagey production and François Roussillon’s video direction rather goes with that. There are closeups where there need to be but plenty of chance to appreciate what Jones is doing across the whole stage. Would that all opera recordings were this well filmed. On Blu-ray the DTS-HD sound and 1080p HD picture sound and look great. Extras are limited to an illustrated synopsis and cast gallery. the booklet contains an essay and a track listing. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
This is a very recommendable disk. I suppose the main modern competition is the Met recording of the somewhat darker Robert Carsen production which I haven’t seen. I loved the Carsen production when it was given at the COC but the cast at the Met was entirely different. I guess I should see it some time.