June 19, 2021
Trademark high spirits and a genial Falstaff kick off Grange Park Opera’s summer season. Plus online treasures great and small
The week in classical: Falstaff; Hallé; Leipzig BachFest; Dunster festival – review
A defining feature of Grange Park Opera – not the only one, and not typical of opera companies – is a sense of humour. The Surrey-based festival treats its central endeavour – the work it makes on stage or, in this past year, on film too – with complete professionalism, but takes equal delight in playfulness around the edges. Often these unite, as in an inspired version of Ravel’s horological opera L’heure espagnole, filmed in, and spilling out of, a small clock shop in Kensington. A browse on the company’s website will give you a sense of their jaunty approach. It will also show you the volume of their achievements in a year of lockdown, keeping alive the talents of some 250 artists (mostly singers, including many top names, but instrumentalists and conductors too).
With a mix of pizzazz and relief, not least at the fine weather, Grange Park’s 2021 season opened with Falstaff, with the star attraction of Bryn Terfel in the title role. Verdi’s final work, only his second comedy of more than two dozen operas, bursts with music of miraculous, witty genius, the orchestral writing restlessly inventive and fresh. With a libretto drawn from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and the Henry IV plays, it’s unlike anything in Verdi’s output, in pace, style, structure. Yet in its lampooning and derision it sometimes hits hard and uncomfortably. Falstaff may be a self-preening idiot, but the merry wives who ridicule him, one of whom calls for a tax on fat people, are pretty shrewish too. The sudden turn-about ending, with its dizzy, hurtling fugue – “tutto il mondo è burla”, loosely translated as “all the world’s a joke” – can leave a sense of desolation, rather than redemption. Since this is a hallowed favourite of many big-hearted folk, I accept I wrestle with its difficulties alone, or in limited company.
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