• “Falstaff” at Opera Santa Barbara (March 9, 2014)

      2 Bravos & Boos (Comments)

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     Cast

    Sir John Falstaff: Todd Thomas

    Ford: Lee Poulis

    Alice Ford: Melody Moore

    Mistress Quickly: Catherine Cook

    Meg Page: Courtney McKeown

    Nannetta: Rebecca Nathanson

    Fenton: Joshua Kohl

    Dr. Caius: Juan José de León

    Bardolfo: Tyler Thompson

    Pistola: Daniel Scofield

    Conductor: Francesco Milioto

    Director: José Maria Condemi

    Set Designer: Steven Kemp

    Lighting Designer: Christopher Maravich

    Costumes: supplied by Malabar Ltd.

     

    I’ve achieved one of my goals: to see an opera in Santa Barbara.  I don’t know why I didn’t see one sooner, since I’m no stranger to vacations and day trips to that beautiful seaside town. Maybe I remembered the drive from LA as being longer than it is and didn’t want to bother; or maybe I was just too busy in school to make the time for it. Well, whatever the reason, it didn’t keep me away this time, and now that I know the company’s level of quality, it won’t keep me away again! This performance of Falstaff was a joy from beginning to end.

     

    Opera Santa Barbara makes its home at the Granada Theatre, which was built as a movie palace in 1924 and which is also the town’s go-to spot for straight plays, concerts, touring musicals and ballet. Despite being the town’s tallest building, it’s smaller than a full-fledged opera house, with a minimum of lobby space and no gift shop or souvenir stand. But it’s still a pretty theatre, with its terracotta façade, colorfully painted rafters, old-fashioned red, cream and gold auditorium, and Spanish influence that reflects both its name and the rest of Santa Barbara’s architecture. (I’d love to see Carmen there someday – it would feel so fitting under the painting of flamenco dancers that graces the top of the stage!) In short, it’s a perfect setting for an intimate yet still elegant night or day at the opera.

     

    The production of Verdi’s comic masterpiece was straightforward, basically traditional (though not uninventive), and full of charm. The unit set consisted of a series of round arches and a wall at the back with a big round hole in the center that could serve as either a door or a window. The impression they created was of the inside of a giant barrel – like the barrels that store the wine so central to Falstaff’s life. With various small and medium-sized additions (staircases, furniture, trees, etc.) this “barrel” became the Garter Inn, the Fords’ house and Windsor Park in turn. The costumes were attractive, colorful Elizabethan garb, and the staging was filled with life and spark, sometimes slapsticky but never tastelessly so. Any visitor from Salzburg would probably have snored through the production, but for those of us who still like traditionally staged opera, it was a well-dressed rollicking good time.

     

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    Todd Thomas was an outstanding Falstaff. With a robust Verdi baritone voice, a commanding physical presence, and a seemingly effortless flair for character acting, he brought Shakespeare’s fat knight to life in all his dimensions: his buffoonish swagger, his hot-tempered, servant-bullying arrogance, his morally ambiguous philosophizing, his brief moments of melancholy, and his ever-triumphing zest for wine, food and life. He was well matched by an excellent group of women. Melody Moore was a lovely, exuberant Alice, while Catherine Cook was a, warm, witty, flirty, eternally scene-stealing Mistress Quickly. Courtney McKeown’s sweet-voiced Meg perfectly rounded out the trio of merry wives. Rebecca Nathanson was an adorable Nannetta whose lush-toned “fairy queen” aria was a major highlight of the performance, while Joshua Kohl’s Fenton was an ideal romantic partner for her. The only weak link among the principles was Lee Poulis’s Ford: his voice was handsome, but all too easily overwhelmed by the orchestra, and his Act II soliloquy fell short of its potential as a showstopper. The supporting buffoon roles – Tyler Thompson’s Bardolfo, Daniel Scofield’s Pistola, and Juan José de Leon’s Dr. Caius – were all excellently filled, and Francesco Milioto’s conducting held the performance together flawlessly.

     

    I only hope Opera Santa Barbara announces its next season soon, so I can plan my next visit. If this excellent Falstaff was typical of what the company offers, then they have a good thing going, and I just might have to become a regular visitor.

    • I agree with everything you said…it was a rollicking good time. Loved the wine barrel set. I especially loved the tenor! They always get the girl don’t they?

    • Delighted you finally discovered Opera Santa Barbara and enjoyed our production of Falstaff. Hope you come back for our production of Menotti’s The Consul on Friday, April 25th at 7:30 PM or Sunday April 27th at 2:30 PM in the Granada Theatre. Our next season will be announced soon. Stay tuned.

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