Opera review: The new Falstaff in Bucharest – A British director’s modern reinterpretation of Verdi

British opera director Graham Vick must have given Romanians quite some thinking with his new Falstaff at the National Opera in Bucharest. The National Opera itself seems to have embraced a new ‘era’ – not only has it renovated the building and the inside hall, but  it has also adopted a new type of art. Modernization is the word that comes to mind, but maybe there’s even a better word for it.

So, Falstaff. The new opera premiered on February 19 at the National Opera in Bucharest. I managed to get tickets to the February 21 performance, the second of the three scheduled for February (two more are on in early March, and another two mid-May- see details at the end of this article).

A host of foreigners helped create the new Falstaff in Bucharest: starting with Graham Vick,  known for his experimental and revisionist stagings of traditional and modern operas. His touch is indeed felt from the first act. Unexpectedly modern décor, modern costumes, modern attitudes, yet singers performing the same opera Verdi wrote at the end of the 19th century. For some people, the mix is shocking at first.  My friend, for example, had trouble matching the music with what was happening on stage. I, on the other hand, found it easier to understand and follow the story (up to a certain point), by using the meta information given by the modern costumes and the modern décor. I imagine it would have been harder to catch the subtleties of using certain period costumes for certain characters.

I will not hide it – I am not an opera critic, nor an arts critic for that matter. But I do love art in any form, strive to enjoy it and understand its meanings. The reinterpretation of this opera play is something I have enjoyed and understood – up to a certain extent. Unfortunately I could not compare Vick’s Bucharest Falstaff to any other Falstaff performance; it was the first time I watched this opera. After reading about Verdi’s composition, based on William Shakespeare’s Falstaff character, I had a certain, let’s now call it, old fashioned, expectation of the show. I expected adapted, yet period costumes, maybe a minimalist staging. I once watched an opera where the only prop was a mattress on the floor, all through the three acts; I thought Falstaff might be somewhere along that line. Thankfully, it was not that minimalist. In fact, the word minimalist would not do the staging any justice. It’s rather symbolic, and…very much nowadays Romania. So were the costumes. I imagine the director and the scenographer Samal Blak must have had either a local adviser, or a very good grasp of the Romanian society. They really nailed it at drawing some local characters by using clothing, props, and staging, in general. Other than mentioning the placement of a modern car in the middle of the stage, I will not get into more details – the play deserves to be watched, and all these discovered.

The cast is almost entirely Romanian, except for German tenor Stefan von Korch, who appeared as a guest and played the character Fenton.  His role and costume was one of the most intriguing, as he was posing as a pool boy. Von Korch played beautifully with the Moldavian singer Ana Cebotari, who played the character Nanetta.

Baritone Stefan Ignat played for the first time the leading role in this play– Falstaff, the fat, drunken womanizer. Ignat is best known for the Oedipe role that he played on various stages around the world. I think he played Falstaff admirably – both the singing, and the acting part – the latter, crucial to putting together the director’s vision.

The play also featured a host of actors: I like how the director included them on stage, and how he smartly managed to move from one scene to the next by leaving out in the open costume or prop changes which are usually hidden to the audience.

All well, until the end, which I still have to digest and make a sense of, from a staging perspective; yes, the story does end with all the cast singing ‘the world is folly and all are figures of fun’. But imagine a huge décor element in the last act, taking most of the stage, and grabbing all attention at the end of the play. Hint: keep an eye on the grass pig throughout the three acts!

To get tickets for the upcoming shows (February 22, March 5, 6, and May 15, 16, 2015), go online on the Opera’s ticketing website.

By Corina Chirileasa, [email protected]  

(photos: Corina Chirileasa; Gin Photo)

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