Opera loves a good joke. Many an operatic plot details the comeuppance of a lovable but arrogant character. Giuseppe Verdi's "Falstaff" delivers that brand of comedy in spades.
Adapted from Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and "Henry IV," "Falstaff" is the story of an arrogant would-be suitor who sings odes to his commodious belly. In the hands of director Tim Ocel and music director Mark Ferrell, the KU Opera production, which opened Thursday, rollicks through Verdi's opera with great verve.
Anchored by the stunning performance of Stanford Felix as Falstaff, this is an excellent cast, both as singers and actors. While there are some who are clearly more comfortable than others, all of them move confidently and with conviction. As Falstaff's followers, Bardolph and Pistol, Christian Elser and Jeffrey Beruan relish their roguish roles. Felix's Falstaff is a boor and a buffoon, with just enough touch of malice to make him a credible threat. While the singing is difficult, Felix seems completely at ease. His lengthy soliloquizing, especially in Act III, is touched with character as well as beauty of tone.
Falstaff, who imagines himself a great seducer, sends identical love letters to Mrs. Alice Ford (Marci Ziegler) and Mrs. Meg Page (Meaghan Deiter) in the hope of extorting money from their husbands. However, the women of television's Wisteria Lane could learn a few things about male management from these merry wives of Windsor. Joined by the faithful Dame Quickly (Sharon Campbell) and Alice's daughter Nannetta (Akiko Imakawa), these desperate housewives devise a plan to teach Falstaff a lesson.
Led by Ziegler, this is a vocally nimble quartet, handling some of the difficult patter music of Act I with only a few pitch problems. Ziegler's is a burnished, even voice that blends when appropriate and leads when needed. Campbell is having a wonderful time with clever Dame Quickly, and Deiter shines as Meg. Imakawa's Nannetta has just the right amount of sweetness and steel. Pledged by her father to marry the odious Dr. Cajus (Hugo Vera), Nannetta loves Fenton (Jonathan Thomas). Imakawa and Thomas' duets soar with clear, elegant tones.
David Lara also gives a standout performance as Alice's presumed cuckolded husband.