Opera Review


‘Falstaff’ wows the audience at UCLA

By Juliet Schoen / Special to The Malibu Times

It is unfortunate that Opera UCLA only gives four performances of its main production each year. Lucky are the ones who saw the presentation of Verdi’s masterpiece, “Falstaff,” which closed on Sunday. The production was superb in every way, with much of the credit going to UCLA’s new director of opera, Peter Kazaras. He has used skill and ingenuity to generate laughs as well as pathos in this tale of an egotistical knight. The audience, which included many young people, gave the opera a rousing round of applause.

No matter how clever the production, “Falstaff” needs good singers, good actors and an excellent orchestra. At the premiere performance, everything meshed. The UCLA Philharmonia sounded lush and elegant under the baton of music director Neal Stulberg, an experienced and accomplished conductor. From the opening crash of sound to the final chord, Verdi’s virtuosic music was beautifully realized.

This opera, based on Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor,” needs a remarkable Falstaff, and Jeffrey Madison, sporting the biggest beer belly imaginable, fills the bill. Not only did he have a distinctive baritone voice, he could really act. He was a delight as the aspiring lover of two women he hoped to bilk of their fortunes.

On the first Sunday, the merry wives were played with joyful zest by Katherine Giaquinto as Alice Ford and Leslie Cook as Meg Page. They had the able assistance of Peabody Southwell as Dame Quickly and Joanna Foote as Nannetta Ford. They all sang and acted wonderfully.

Other principal roles were sung by a strong-voiced In Joon Jang as Ford, Alex Mendoza as Bardolph, Apollo Wang as Pistol, Dory Schultz as Dr. Caius and Daniel Suk as Fenton. (The opera is largely double-cast, so many of the roles were taken by other students in later performances.) The costumes were lavish as were the sets, despite the smallish, curtainless stage of UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall. Anna Bjarnstodder was the costume designer and Donald Eastman the scenic designer. Special kudos to Mr. Eastman for the ingenious cluster of chairs that formed an oak tree in the final act.

Tickets to the opera were $20 for adults and $10 for seniors and students. You can’t find better entertainment at any price, so look ahead to next year’s UCLA opera presentation.