By Cameron Ropp
Guiseppe Verdi’s operatic adaption of The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff, at the Lyrical Opera Theater in Midvale is as pleasant to the attention span as well as the eyes and ears. “Opera” may be an intimidating word to many people, but never fear for there could be no gentler introduction to such fine an art than this show, which is energetic and easy enough to follow for anyone who can read subtitles and enjoyable whether you have seen hundreds of operas or if this is your first one. With simplistic yet beautiful designs and music, this theater has really piqued my desire to see more shows of such an amazing caliber as the one subject to this article.
As I mentioned above, Falstaff is an adaption of the well-loved Shakespeare play The Merry Wives of Windsor in which the (let’s call him rotund) knight, Falstaff (played by Gregory Watts), attempts to win the affections of two wealthy and married women, Alice Ford (portrayed by Felicia Lundie) and Meg Page (Lynette Owens), with assistance from his two henchmen Bardolfo (Elijah Hancock) and Pistola (Nelson LeDuc). However, unable to deny their “honor” the two underlings reveal the knight’s plan to Alice’s husband Ford (Daniel Tuutau). Driven by vengeance, he starts plotting to get retribution on his would-be-cuckolder, unaware of the fact that both his wife and Mrs. Page are driven by a more light-hearted desire have also cooked up their own scheme to get back at the unsolicited suitor. Ford with the support of his friend Dr. Caius (Daniel Mcdonnall) and a young gentleman named Fenton (Garrett Medlock) sets off to gain his revenge while the two women do the same with their own supporters; Dame Quickly (Aubrey Odle) and Alice’s daughter, Nannetta (Jessica Benson/ Serena Mackerell). Unbeknownst to the rest of the characters, Nanneta and Fenton are passionately engaged in their own romantic affair which only lends itself to complicate the unavoidable messes the characters get themselves into.
As far as the individual performances of the actors go I have no complaints. Any show would be dead in the water without the employment of a talented cast and I am happy to say that this show is not so. Watts stands up to all the expectations of being the titled character of the show. In both acting and singing performances he cannot seem to get much better… that is until you see him onstage again in the next scene. Tuutau is also a clearly talented performer and these talents are not lost in his portrayal of Ford, the not-quite-cuckold. A student with a clear passion for the musical arts, Medlock will catch you by surprise with an amount of ability that would scarcely be expected of someone appearing so young. It is a fine feeling in a show when you know at any time you may cast a glance at an actor and see them as engaged in the story as someone actually experiencing it for the first time. This is one of the many praises I can attribute to McDonnall in his portrayal of Dr. Caius. Easily one of the most impressive performances I have ever seen, I cannot decide which part of Hancock’s performance I appreciated more: his vocal ability or his comedic timing. As for Leduc, his experience speaks for himself. A veteran of the stage, his range of talents boast of the wisdom that only years of stage experience can give you.
In regards to the women of this cast, they put love and life into each scene that is evident in even the furthest seat in the back row. Lundie sings with a voice that makes every word a piece of art and Benson as well cannot sing without covering you head to toe in goosebumps. Odle’s vocal strength may only be second to her strength as Dame Quickly in one of the most animated performances I have ever seen. Another seasoned veteran of the stage, Owens also must be credited with a skill that is only attainable by those with a real passion for their art like she has. Although I did not get the pleasure of watching Mackerell in her role as Nannetta, I am sure based off of the talent of this cast as a whole her abilities are also to receive the upmost praise and I will await a day when I can see her on stage and give her a fair review.
The glue that holds any great show together is the ensemble of course, and this ensemble did not shrink from the responsibility. Though, sadly, not often seen, their power and presence onstage still remains in my mind as one of the most memorable parts of the night and would have been even more so if more involved in the few scenes they appeared in.
Now behind every great show is an equally great staff. I would be remiss if I did not shower them with as much praise as they so rightfully deserve. Choreographer Tiffani Barney has mastered more than most, the ability to use choreography not just as a way an actor moves themselves onstage but as a way to move the story as well as the audience. Especially when in reference to three wonderfully talented dancers (Caitlin Vance, Maren Dall, and Eden Peterson). I am also extremely impressed with the smoothness of the show which can be attributed to the well-constructed staging managed by Kaden Pigsley. Though often a thankless job, a stage manager is responsible for the efficiency of the whole show, if a stage is poorly managed than the show is poorly presented. But even being so young, Pigsley manages one of the cleanest shows I have ever watched. With the help of Samantha Cropp, his stage hand, the show moved like clockwork. The sets were simplistic yet completely engrossed me into the story. I felt myself being pulled into each scene as if I actually were in Windsor experiencing all of the hijinks first hand. One final shout out to Sound Balancer Christopher Arbizu. An actor will always tell you how hard memorization can be, but how much harder must it be to memorize everybody’s parts and adjust the show based on that knowledge. Many times, in a show I can instantly point out any point when the sound has been changed to accommodate any change in volume or any issues present onstage, but not during this show. I attribute this to a wonderfully talented balancer who I believe has a promising future in the business.
So, the opera is not just a place for fancy coat-tailed-monocle-wearing gents or phantoms anymore. Feel free to take your whole family to see Falstaff at the Lyrical Opera Theater. I bet if you do you will leave with a smile on your face, and I personally look forward to seeing many more shows there and having many more laughs, gasps, tears, and sighs to share.
Lyrical Opera Theater presents Falstaff By Giuseppe Verdi
Midvale Performing Arts Center, 695 West Center St. (7720 South), Midvale, Utah 84047
April 7, 20 2018, 7:00 PM, matinees April 14, 2018, 4:00 PM, April 22, 2018, 3:00 PM
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Falstaff Facebook event