This revival of Robert Carsen’s 2012 staging of Verdi’s final opera seems to have everything you could ask for. Appropriately enough, it even stars two baritone knights, Bryn Terfel and Simon Keenlyside – yet it proves strangely unsatisfying.
Falstaff is a mercurial piece. Wit and wordplay jostle with broader comedy which, veering between slapstick and cruelty, is tempered by romance, anger and melancholy.
Somehow, this lavish show, which conjures up a glamorised vision of 1950s Britain, smooths everything out. Executed with the utmost expertise, it slips down very easily, but even Nicola Luisotti’s impeccable conducting could afford to make the occasional extra nudge toward sentiment or sensuality.
Terfel, in all-encompassing voice, transcends his initial appearance in a stained onesie to play Falstaff with both considerable dignity and a sly twinkle in his eye. It is a shame, then, that he is upstaged in his darkest moment by a real live horse munching hay.
There would be little chance of stealing any scene from the luscious-sounding Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Mistress Quickly. She camps things up a bit, but with the flair of a natural bête de scene. By comparison the sympathetic, creamy-toned Alice Ford of Ana Maria Martinez seems a little too demure to be leading the dance.
As her husband, Keenlyside puts all his subtle artistry into persuading us he is a visceral Verdi baritone. Anna Prohaska’s Nannetta spins a lovely line as the Fairy Queen, but she does not quite ravish the ear, leaving it to Frederic Antoun’s Fenton to create vocal magic as he opens the final scene with an exquisitely shaded aria.