In his first operatic venture, Christopher Luscombe delivers a sharply observed, precision-engineered production. Set in 2019, it even features a walk-on by a certain corgi-loving resident of Windsor.
But equal credit is due to the conductor, Francesco Cilluffo, for a show that hits all the spots with real flair – and without ramming its points home. Comic-opera convention only rears its (antlered) head in the climactic scene at Herne’s Oak, in any case an overt set piece with few 21st-century resonances.
Simon Higlett’s sliding, revolving set is a triumph, accommodating the comfy lounge of the Garter Inn, the riverside facade and gleaming kitchen of the Ford residence, and a nippy Thames steam launch. The characters’ choices of smart casual wear say everything about them – above all Falstaff’s ‘bohemian’ patchwork jacket: he proudly sees himself as an attraction for selfie-snapping tourists.
For all his fatuity, Robert Hayward’s splendidly sonorous Falstaff also exudes genuine pathos after his dunking in the Thames. Machinating irresistibly against him is Elin Pritchard’s soaring, peachy-voiced Alice Ford, while Nicholas Lester as her initially drippy husband roars like a lion once inflamed with jealousy.
Susan Bickley is not a fruity contralto, but who could resist her conspiratorial shadings and consummate comic acting as Mistress Quickly? Rhian Lois’ sparky Nannetta spins a gossamer line, Alessandro Fisher’s Fenton oozes graceful tenor charm and Angela Simkin sounds tangy as Meg.
Completing the virtuoso ensemble are Graham Clark, dapper and pompous as Dr Caius, Pietro di Bianco as the slick, charcoal-toned Pistola, and Christopher Gillett, unforgettably seedy as Bardolfo.