Loveland Opera Theatre Provides Great Fun – Greatly Sung
Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 27, 2017
Two neighboring wives in Scarsdale, New York, receive letters from the town lecher – John Falstaff, indicating his desire for rendezvous. He is a not very bright lecher, as the women receiving the letters live side by side in the community, and are most eager to share the silly request with each other. They decide to teach him a lesson by inviting him to their homes, with further plans to make him realize his foolishness.
So begins a delightful recounting of Shakespeare’s 1602 play, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” now set to music. Shakespeare’s merry wives have seen many transformations. Italian composer Otto Nicolai wrote and conducted the music for a German language opera in 1849, with libretto by Salomon Hermann Munsenthal, first performed in Berlin. Forty-four years later, Italy’s Giuseppe Verdi took his turn with the play with his opera, “Falstaff,” premiering in Milan in 1893.
The story has changed locale over the years, and has now turned up in 1950s Scarsdale, New York, as evidenced by Loveland Opera theatre’s current version of Nicolai’s music at the Rialto Theatre. The result is sheer pleasure. The music was not familiar to me, but is a series of lilting melodies, greatly sung. The stage becomes a Scarsdale neighborhood: the early morning rush of husbands departing to catch the train to their offices in nearby Manhattan. The milkman, postman, salesmen, children on their way to school – brightly lit as if on a happy late spring or summer day.
The current show provides a super opportunity to just relax and enjoy. It is sung in English, with easy-to-read English script running above the stage.
When the opulent Falstaff arrives, Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page are ready to terrorize the man. Telling Falstaff that their husbands have come home, they hide him in a large laundry basket and have him dumped into a nearby pond. He is drenched, but not drowned. When the husbands do arrive home, they realize that something is amiss, but are unable to find anything out of order.
A similar ruse takes place later in the show, with Falstaff ushered out of the house dressed as an elderly female, a visiting relative.
While the primary plot revolves around the merry wives’ pleasure in taunting Falstaff, a sub plot concerns the Page’s daughter, Anne. Mr. and Mrs. Page are eager for her to find a mate. Mr. Page wants her to marry a successful but nerdy man in the medical profession. Mrs. Page wants her to marry a daffy, older Frenchman, Dr. Cajus. Anne, however, has found than man of her dreams – a penniless suitor, Fenton.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Phoenix Gayles plays Alice Ford, Christina Hazen is Meg Page. Bethany Smith, is her daughter, Anne. Joe Massman is John Falstaff, Schyler Vargas as Mr. Ford, Trevor Holder as Mr. Page, Nathan Snyder as the suitor Fenton, Sean Stephenson as the suitor Slender, and Robert Hoch as suitor Dr. Cajus. There is a very large ensemble, including many children. Two dancers, Abby Hanawalt and Helene Luna are especially good. A special interest is the involvement of so many young persons in the cast. The Loveland Opera Theatre is proactive in encouraging students to become aware of opera. The students on the stage of the Rialto appear to be perfectly at home – many with their first stage experience.
The director is Timothy Kennedy, with the large orchestra conducted by Adam Torres. Peter F. Muller designed the lighting, Noel Johnston, the set. Costumes showing styles of the 50s are designed by Davis Sibley. Excellent properties are under direction of Becky Warner.
Shakespeare was fond of forest activity, as several of his plays include scenes away from castles and town centers. The third act of “Merry Wives” concludes in the rural setting of the Windsor Country Club with a masked ball. That scene is especially fun – the masks and costumes of the partygoers, the animals and insects of the forest, relaxing melodies – and the grand finale where all follies are forgiven. This is comic opera at its most endearing!
“The Merry Wives of Windsor”
Loveland Opera Theatre, on stage of the Rialto Theatre in Loveland
When: Through March 5
228 East 4th Street
Loveland, CO 80537
Tickets: Rialto Box Office: 970-962-2120
For more information: www.lovelandopera.org