In a fast-paced, witty and highly entertaining performance, Utah Opera on Saturday unveiled its current production of Verdi's "Falstaff." Everything about this production is first-rate. The singers, with world-famous baritone Timothy Noble in the title role, are outstanding, and they gave a turbo-charged performance that kept you on the edge of your seat with their infectious enthusiasm and zealous delivery.
Noble was born to play Falstaff. Saturday was Noble's 109th appearance as the debauched and devious knight, and he is incredible in this role. His acting is superb, and he sings with gusto and authority. As played by Noble, Falstaff is an unprincipled rascal who deep inside really isn't all that bad. To be sure, he swaggers about and thinks he's more important than he really is, but he can still laugh at himself and his folly. As he says at the end of the opera, "not only am I witty, but I am the reason there is wit in others." And this twisted reasoning is what keeps Falstaff going.
Noble comes very close to stealing the show, but "Falstaff" is an ensemble opera, and it is the interaction among the characters that keeps everything moving along. And the entire cast is fabulous. Soprano Joanne Kolomyjec as Alice Ford is the perfect foil to Noble's Falstaff. She matches wits with him and deftly thwarts his oafish advances.
Baritone Gary Lehman was fantastic as Ford. He brought life into his role and gave a strong performance. One of his best moments was his solo in Act II, Scene 1, where he lashes out against women, after erroneously believing his wife had betrayed him with Falstaff.
Tenor Robert Breault as Fenton and soprano Peggy Kriha Dye as Nannetta were perfect as the young lovers. Both have lovely voices, and they were absolutely charming in their duets together. In fact, this is probably one of Breault's finest performances of his career.
The rest of the cast was also equally outstanding. Tenor Joel Sorensen as Dr. Caius was impressive, as was mezzo-soprano Sondra Kelly as Dame Quickly. Mezzo-soprano Halina Avery as Meg Page, tenor Eric Shaw as Bardolfo and bass-baritone Randall Mayo as Pistola were all great in their roles.
Conductor Richard Buckley's tempos were brisk and kept the action moving along at a bright clip. The Utah Symphony played crisply under his direction and supported the singers well, although there were a few passages in Act I in which the orchestra overpowered the singers occasionally.
David Gately's stage direction was wonderful, emphasizing the broad comedy of "Falstaff" without ever reverting to slapstick gags.