Michael Volle, Barbara Frittoli, Alfredo Daza, Nadine Sierra, Daniela Barcellona, Francesco Demuro; Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim; dir. Mario Martone (Berlin, 2018)
C Major 757608 (DVD); 757704 (Blu-ray) 142 mins
Sir John Falstaff, a laid-back boor in leather jacket and jeans, inhabits a grungy world on the fringes of society, hanging out with bikers and tarts on a graffiti-daubed inner-city street corner. Windsor’s ladies-who-lunch spend their days lounging around a rooftop pool. Making Windsor Great Park an alfresco fetish club may initially feel like ‘gratuitous opera cliché number one’, yet even this conceit is ultimately made to work. Purists should look away now, but I found this production by Mario Martone tremendous fun.
Verdi’s last opera, with its through-composed score and rhythmic vitality, marked an important leap forward in terms of dramatic realism, ushering in a school of operatic composition where stage characters really did feel like real people. In this production, the acting is ultra-naturalistic even in close-up, to the point where one almost forgets the characters are communicating in song (I intend that as no sort of slight). Baritone Michael Volle inhabits the title role with absolute conviction: he is laugh-out-loud funny, his vocal delivery apparently effortless. The Act II encounter between him and Mrs Quickly (Daniela Barcellona) is a particular treat.
Vocally, it seems invidious to single anyone out from such a consistently strong ensemble cast, but Nadine Sierra (Nannetta) and Francesco Demuro (Fenton) give a particularly luminous performance of the opera’s love music, and Alfredo Daza (Ford) is deliciously plangent in his Act II state of torment. A vivid and energetic performance from the Staatskapelle Berlin under Daniel Barenboim rounds off an enjoyable package.