The San Francisco Opera’s new production of Verdi’s 1893 “Falstaff” advertises Bryn Terfel in the title role. Yet at Tuesday’s premiere, it wasn't Terfel onstage but Falstaff himself, in all his gross magnificence.
If anyone can bring charm and magnetism to Shakespeare's lecherous, imperious, self-deluded drunk, it is Terfel, whose spot-on portrayal, without a smidgen of overacting, represents a bonus, even, to his overwhelming vocal performance.
Given his voice, artistry and experience, Terfel would be a Falstaff for the ages even if he phoned it all in, but he did nothing of the sort. The massive and yet pliant voice, powerful and warm, soared all evening, filling the gigantic War Memorial Opera House as if it were a small studio.
Terfel has been singing the role since even before the 1999 Chicago premiere of this wonderful wooden-igloo production by Frank Philipp Schlössmann, which remains fresh and vibrant.
And when the fat man sings, it’s just the beginning. Terfel is surrounded by an outstanding cast: Ainhoa Arteta as Alice sparkles; Adler Fellow Renée Rapier as Meg is equally appealing, and Merola-Adler alumna Meredith Arwady as Dame Quickly channels Marilyn Horne.
The Nannetta-Fenton duo — Heidi Stober and Francesco Demuro — is musically affecting and romantically believable; his aria is lovely.
As Falstaff's lackeys and procurers Bardolfo and Pistola, Greg Fedderly and Andrea Silvestrelli have a romp, and Joel Sorensen as Dr. Caius is a hoot.
Fabio Capitanucci, as Ford, will get bigger and better; he seemed to hold back on opening night.
With Nicola Luisotti’s knowing and caring musical direction, the orchestra sparkles. Among many outstanding solos are Kevin Rivard’s horn call from the audience, Janet Popesco Archibald's English horn, Julie McKenzie's flute, Mingjia Liu’s oboe and Rufus Olivier's bassoon.
On the downside, something went slightly awry in the third act. While the opera chorus sang lustily, Luisotti and stage director Olivier Tambosi held back on what should be a wild free-for-all in Windsor Forest, meant to scare and punish Falstaff.
Nonetheless, the lack of a true musical-theatrical riot at the end remains a relatively small matter. This “Falstaff” and Falstaff should not be missed.
Presented by the San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24 and Oct. 30, 2 p.m. Oct. 20 and Oct. 27
Tickets: $23 to $385