EIF opera review: Scottish Opera's Falstaff, Festival Theatre

Despite some strong solo performances, Scottish Opera’s Falstaff fails to raise many laughs in a half-full, socially-distanced Festival Theatre, writes David Kettle
Roland Wood as Falstaff PIC: Julie HowdenRoland Wood as Falstaff PIC: Julie Howden
Roland Wood as Falstaff PIC: Julie Howden

Scottish Opera: Falstaff, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh ***

Ask any stand-up about playing to a half-empty room, and they’ll tell you that comedy struggles in a vacuum. Scottish Opera’s Falstaff makes the opposite journey to that of most of the International Festival’s performances this year, moving from an al fresco setting outside the Company’s Glasgow production studios to the interior of the Festival Theatre.

The diffuse atmosphere created by the barely half-full, carefully socially distanced audience partly explains why it struggles to raise many laughs. But David McVicar’s production – impressively detailed, carefully considered, elegant and fluid though it is – feels rather too detached to mine Verdi’s comic opera for comedy.

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Vocally, McVicar’s soloists are remarkably strong. Roland Wood makes a bold, shameless Falstaff, Elizabeth Llewellyn is no-nonsense but sensuous as Alice Ford, and Gemma Summerfield stands out as a silver-toned, beautifully nuanced Nannetta. But likewise, his Falstaff is more of a swaggering mafia godfather, theatening his mates Pistol and Bardolph (Alistair Miles and Jamie MacDougall, in larger-than-life cockney and Glaswegian accents respectively), than a deluded, semi-tragic figure desperate for dosh and affection, such that his two humiliations seem simply like punishments rather than anything more nuanced.

Background actors get their moments to shine (step forward Caleb Hughes) in McVicar’s nonetheless intricate, stylish staging, and his fairy procession is full of weird wonder. Scottish Opera’s orchestra is on splendid form under conductor Stuart Stratford, though the relay

through speakers adds a slightly artificial twang to its sound. But in terms of comedy, when Falstaff’s preposterously engorged codpiece provokes the evening’s biggest titter, you know you’ve got problems.

Until 14 August, www.eif.co.uk

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