Artshub.) As I know little of opera – apart from enjoying the general public’s popular arias – I had nothing to compare this with and so went with a completely open mind, which could be an advantage of course.
Quite by a lucky coincidence, I had not long finished reading The Merry Wives of Windsor, and with it being a comedy as well, I knew we would be in for a happy evening. It was more than that, it was quite wonderful. From the moment in the opening tableau that we saw Sir John Falstaff himself, huge and gorgeously apparelled, carousing with his henchmen Pistol and Bardolph outside a wonderfully created old Garter Inn, we were hooked. From then on, we were taken on a giddy journey, exploring Shakespeare’s bawdy humour and sense of fun with clever costumes, sliding and revolving sets (including a snow machine for the magical Windsor Park setting at the end ),and tumbling athleticism as several of the characters ran up and down stairs, fell out of windows and in Falstaff’s case, got his great girth inside a laundry basket, to be lugged upstairs and tipped out of the window at the rear, presumably down into the canal beneath. All that and the glorious singing too! As Satima points out in her excellent review, there is hardly a word of Shakespeare himself to be found, but a very serviceable English translation of the Italian lyrics came up on two screens either side of the stage. My favourite was young Nannetta’s angry retort to the suggestion by her mother that the old French Dr Caius would be a good suitor for her: 'It is better to be stoned to death by a volley of cabbages than marry that fool'. (Shakespeare gives his English Anne the line, 'Alas! I had rather be set quick i’the earth, And bowl’d to death with turnips.')
The character of Falstaff, played with such obvious enjoyment by James Clayton, was all we could have hoped for (although I must admit I had somehow expected him to have a deeper voice) with his mincing gait, his ginger wig and his hilarious, over-the-top egotism. We can’t help a sneaking liking for him and are even prepared to forgive him when he wobbles his rump at the ladies and pats his huge stomach in self-satisfaction. All this made his eventual cringing and abject fawning in front of the fairies and goblins, who abused and chastised him in the woods, all the more poignant. Perhaps this physical punishment of Falstaff went on a little too long and too enthusiastically for a modern audience, but that’s a very small criticism for what was a hugely successful evening.
For regular Perth opera goers and socialites, this is obviously an “Occasion” in the calendar not to be missed – and why wouldn’t you go if you get the chance to put on the glad rags and partake of fine Margaret River wines, proffered around the bar on silver salvers! Some of the fashions wouldn’t disgrace well-known opera houses: all around us there were smart dinner jackets, cocktail dresses, and stoles, even one long, strappy, black tulle creation that swept the ground at the back in a sort of mini train. But whatever we came in didn’t matter, as we were all swept up in this romp, this “flourish of frivolity” as one reviewer aptly described it. So take a bow, Shakespeare, (with a nod to Verdi, Simon Phillips et al). You’ve done it again!
As a footnote, I can’t resist mentioning that I gave Satima a lift afterwards to Lake Street, Northbridge, where she is currently house-sitting, and our rather fraught peregrinations at gone 11.00 pm through the one-way system, which neither of us knew nor could recognize at that time of night, would have made a mildly amusing video. At the time it didn’t seem that funny, but afterwards I think we laughed about the way I entered the one-way system on Williams Street, crossing from the Horseshoe Bridge going the wrong way, and had to reverse and swing left; I then executed several unscheduled U-turns and bumped over part of a pavement I hadn’t noticed – I hadn’t had any of that lovely wine either! Luckily, I can report that “All’s Well That Ends Well”.
6 November 2011