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Falstaff at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Catherine Ashmore Falstaff at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
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New in 2012, Robert Carsen’s staging generally comes up a treat in this carefully rehearsed first revival under Christophe Gayral. Most of Paul Steinberg’s and Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s visuals, with their witty and resolutely followed-through 1950s references, remain snazzy, but there’s not quite enough moonlit magic in the final Windsor Forest nocturne, and it’s definitely surprising that a director as stage-savvy as Carsen should allow a live horse eating hay effortlessly to steal (not to say destroy) most of the first scene of Act 3, in which important information is supposed to be imparted to the audience but scarcely registers here.

Yet the life-affirming spirit of Verdi’s comic masterpiece nevertheless comes over, partly because Danish conductor Michael Schonwandt displays the rich, autumnal colours of the scoring while never allowing his sense of dynamism to descend into the mechanical. Indeed, the music-making is of a consistently high standard.

A second major virtue is the larger-than-life presence in the title role of Ambrogio Maestri, whose roguish knight is eminently lovable despite the appalling behaviour he indulges in. With one of the finest and most lavish baritone voices around today, the Italian sings the role as marvellously as anyone ever could.

But he has some strong support, whether from Roland Wood’s angry, vividly delivered Ford, Ainhoa Arteta’s sparkling Alice, Agnes Zwierko’s comic grande dame of a Mistress Quickly, or Anna Devin’s peerlessly sung Nannetta – another performance it would be hard to better either vocally or dramatically.

As Fenton, Portuguese tenor Luis Gomes shines in almost every department, though he could do with more of what singing teachers call ‘ping’. Both individually and as a double act, Alasdair Elliott and Lukas Jakobski are priceless as Bardolph and Pistol, while Peter Hoare’s Dr Caius is also as good as it gets.

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The first revival of Robert Carsen’s production of Verdi’s late comedy thrives on Ambrogio Maestri’s Falstaff and Michael Schonwandt’s conducting
George Hall
George Hall writes widely on opera and has contributed regularly to The Stage since 2000. He has also contributed to such publications as The New Penguin Opera Guide and the Oxford Companion to Music