Verdi’s Falstaff on the cheap must be the verdict on Pimlico Opera’s production 21 September at the Grange Opera House (near Alton, Hampshire) before embarking on a tour of seventeen towns ‘where you are) although rather daftly the programme did not mention which they are. The orchestra was small, single players of wind and brass, no mention in the programme of who boiled down the score, and only ten string players. This robbed Verdi’s last opera of its unique iridescence and its kaleidoscopic charm. Nor did the conductor Alice Fordham do much more than keep the playing tidy. Verdi’s full-blooded score sounded anaemic. There was no chorus and there were cuts, Falstaff’s lute song for instance.
So what remained? Quite a lot. Firstly there was a finely rounded title role performance from the Falstaff, David Alexander Borloz and a fruity Mistress Quickly from Emma Carrington. Verity Parker had the notes for Nanette (her last top A was a treat, but a bit of wobble lower down – a pity she was given such dowdy clothes). Alice, Ford, Meg and Fenton all sang tidily but that tidiness excluded much in the way of vocal purity, elegance or character. Tidiness is not high art.
A brick arch cunningly did for all scenes with suitable different decorations, including a rather improbable swimming pool (yes, it was modern dress) and, for some reason, different clocks for each venue, not forgetting a lift chez Ford, where the lovers hid and lights indicated that at one point it was at five floors at the same time.
Although performing at the Grange Pimlico Opera is not to be confused with its sister company, Grange Opera, which plays for a whole summer (this year superior productions of Dvorak’s Rusalka and Puccini’s Fanciulla del West). Pimlico Opera began as the brain child of Wasfi Kani who conducted (rather well) before becoming a fund-raiser and administrator of Grange Opera. I remember their Sweeney Todd in Wormwood Scrubs which was performed by a cast combining Pimlico singers and prisoners. I taped some interviews with the inmates and foolishly asked a non-musical question: ‘what’s the worst thing about prison?’ ‘No visitors.’ ‘What, no nice girl-friend comes to visit?’ ‘Well, I murdered ‘er, din’ I?’.