The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.358 Thursday, 21 August 2014
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: August 21, 2014 at 10:10:23 AM EDT
Subject: The Lesser-Known ‘Falstaff,’ in 1980s Clothing
The New York Times
Shakespeare’s Preening Con Man, as Seen by Salieri, Then Updated
The Lesser-Known ‘Falstaff,’ in 1980s Clothing
By Vivien Schweitzer
Antonio Salieri and his some 40 operas are not usually cited amid the incessant drumbeat of composer anniversaries in New York. But his birthday (Aug. 18) received a rare nod on Tuesday when the dell’Arte Opera Ensemble presented his “Falstaff,” a gem performed as part of the company’s two-week A Summer of Shakespeare festival.
Composed in 1799 and one of the first operatic incarnations of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” “Falstaff” loudly echoes Mozart, although the work lacks both the sublimity and profundity of Mozart’s operas. But while Salieri’s music may be more earthbound, this work reflects his stature as an important composer of late-18th-century opera, a skillfully composed work that charms with its attractive melodies, lovely vocal ensemble numbers and agile orchestration.
A slightly different plot unfolds in the libretto (by Carlo Prospero Defranceschi) than in Verdi’s better-known version of the Shakespeare play. The young lovers Fenton and Anne are omitted and a scene added in which Mrs. Ford impersonates a German girl (here an au pair wearing a huge pink hair bow) to tempt Falstaff. Salieri’s opera buffa also lacks the character depth of Verdi’s “Falstaff” and the dark-hued undertones of Mozart’s comedies.
The dell’Arte band played well throughout — led by the spirited and polished playing of Audrey Lo (the concertmaster). John Spencer conducted from the keyboard, deftly rendering the recitativo accompaniment.
Louisa Proske, who directed this effective production in the black-box space of the East 13th Street Theater, updated the action to the 1980s. As the title character, the potbellied, blue-suit clad Gary Ramsey proved suitably sleazy as he portrayed the lascivious con artist, projecting a preening confidence in his own magnetism. His charisma and robust baritone were marred only by his mushy Italian diction.
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