By Drew Neneman / World-Herald correspondent / Feb 14, 2018
If you can’t live large at the opera, you aren’t doing it right. At the Orpheum Theater on Friday night Opera Omaha presented Giuseppe Verdi’s iconic comic opera “Falstaff.” Centered on its larger than life namesake, “Falstaff” takes a delightful yet deep look at humanity’s gluttony, vanity, affection and humility.
Based on William Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Henry IV” parts one and two, the story of the opera is an exploration of the misadventures of one of literature’s most famous comic antiheroes.
Hal France conducted a pristine performance by the Omaha Symphony. The score is friendly and accessible yet full of Romantic grandeur. Allegra Libonati made an impressive Opera Omaha debut as director. Libonati’s sense of comedy and conspiracy made fun and smart use of the entire stage. Julia Noulin-Mérat, in her fourth production with Opera Omaha, was the scenic designer.
The traditional 15th-century setting of “Falstaff” was abandoned for a 1930s seaside resort and a lively take on the plot. In the socialite upper crust of the ’30s, the Shakespearean source material was able to shed some of the pomp and predictability in exchange for sensuality and carefree joy. Despite the gorgeous visual element and appeal to the story’s message, the 20th-century setting did manage to hurt some of the Shakespearean physical comedy and mistaken-identity farce. Icelandic baritone Olafur Sigurdarson made a splendid U.S. debut as Falstaff himself. In addition to a fine voice, he was tremendously effective swinging back and forth from vanity to self-pity, and from revelation to debauchery.
Soprano Mary Dunleavy returned to Opera Omaha to play Alice Ford. Her athletic grace on stage, vivacious voice and palpable wit were the highlight of the evening. Lindsay Ammann made a fantastic Omaha debut as well, playing the scheming Mistress Quickly. Her rich mezzo-soprano instrument was a delicious complement to the ensemble. Rachele Gilmore was enchanting as the ingénue Nannetta. Other debuts included lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker, Lucas Levy as Dr. Caius, Renata Pokupic as Meg Page, Richard Ollarsaba as Pistola, Taylor Slayton as Fenton and Keith Phares as Ford. Many fresh, exciting faces made for a lovely show.