After writing tragic opera after tragic opera, Verdi, at 83, shocked his contemporaries with a comedy written with youthful joy. He also conjured the lyrical spirit of William Shakespeare—no easy feat and why so few have excelled at turning the Bard’s works into something fresh, as Verdi did thrice. This is all topped with the libretto written by Arrigo Boio, who was then at the height of his career, says McBeth. These conjoining factors create the air that McBeth mentioned. And Utah Opera has added its own flourishes for a bright and blissful performance.
The evening’s highlights included homage paid to the departing Susan Memmott Allred, Utah Opera costume designer for 33 years. In her final foray, the costumes were picture perfect, if not, at times, regal. Her abilities, no doubt, will be missed. 45-year-old Steven Condy performed the saucy, likable scoundrel with perfection and grace (especially for such a surly gentleman), although Falstaff himself does not believe in grace: “Can honor fill your belly? It is only a word,” he sang in Act I, Scene I. Punch lines about Falstaff’s girth abound, evoking audience belly-jiggling. For instance, pointing to his round middle, he sang, “This is my Kingdom, and I will enlarge it.”
Thusly, we see the man’s intentions behind trying to woo two women with the same whimsical letter. Of course, he sets his own trap, and, like in any classic comedy, the plot twists and tangles through layers of deception and tomfoolery where even some get burnt by their own hot iron prodding. Without giving too much away, it is this sort of layering that provides a wonderful arch.
Also worth mentioning are the performances by the lovestruck pair of Fenton (Aaron Blake) and Nannetta (Sharin Apostolou), the daughter of Alice Ford. While Cynthia Clayton’s take on Alice Ford is breathtaking, Apostolou’s clarity and elegance on her few solos was mesmerizing.
Aside from being awestruck, scenes like Act II, Scene II are hilarious. There, Falstaff is being hid inside a three-sided screen and inside a laundry basket. The performance hits on every spectrum that counts.
The comedic opera ends with a fugue, with all the cast singing. This device had fallen out of fashion when Verdi wrote Falstaff, and its use, again, shows off Verdi’s daring in his old age. This playfulness, the comedy’s theme, is summed as Falstaff sings, “All the world a joke/ Man is born the Jester/ And we are all mocked/ And he who laughs last, laughs best.” The pivotal moment resonated brilliantly throughout the Capitol Theater just before the curtain falls.