This is a very funny production of a very funny opera. Bernard Haitink, in his brief interview, remarks that it is like champagne and sure enough, it really does sparkle from start to finish.
Graham Vick, the producer, comments that he sees this as very much an Italian opera. He stresses the Italian origins of the story upon which Shakespeare based his `Merry Wives of Windsor' and he stresses the medieval nature of the story. There is thus just a short step to applying the vivid colours of the Italian medieval world to this production. Speed is also of the essence and he remarks on the similarity of this opera story to similar stories found in `The Canterbury Tales'.
The staging makes use of this world of extremes in its design and in its use of colour. Interestingly, years later, Dover Castle has been re-opened and presented to the general public specifically with the colours, fabrics and social artefacts that are now believed to be true to its medieval period. These are remarkably similar to those found in this production. This vivid staging has been an obstacle to total enjoyment for some people who have seen it as unreal. Now, it seems, the historians have shown Graham Vick's instincts and ideas to be close to medieval reality.
The cast are as close to a dream team as it is reasonable to expect, let alone demand. Bryn Terfel makes a wonderfully over-large characterisation of Falstaff. This suits both his costume and his voice. Barbara Frittoli leads the team of four excellent Merry Wives in a totally engaging and merry way. It is obvious that great enjoyment has been had in this production by these four women. Roberto Frontali makes an excellent Ford as are Peter Hoare and Gwynne Howell excellent as Bardolph and Pistol respectively. Without going through the rest of the cast and individually singing their praises, let it be said, in my opinion, that all are equally excellent in all their various roles.
The orchestra is on top form with precision playing bringing out every pointed or barbed musical phrase as well as extraordinary lightness of touch. In all of this it would be hard to over-praise the conductor, Bernard Haitink.
There are short interviews with Haitink, Terfel and Vick as extras plus a documentary describing the refurbishment of the opera house up to the opening night.
The camera work is very involving and gives clear imaging and the vivid colours as intended. The sound is presented in excellent 5.1 surround format. The recording was made in 2000 and is still of excellent quality.
This has long been a favourite recording of mine of this opera and, given its undoubted performing excellence, it seems hard to imagine it failing to give the great majority of purchasers considerable pleasure and satisfaction. This is not the only way to present this very fine opera of course, but in my opinion, it is certainly a most enjoyable way or experiencing it. As a result, and in my opinion, it is an easy 5 star issue.