Wednesday 13th July, 7.00pm


  • Verdi  Falstaff, 115′

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


Tutto nel mondo è burla: “All the world’s a joke”. The final words of Verdi’s Falstaff bring down the curtain on one of the warmest and wisest comedies in all music. What better way to celebrate the Bard than with this uproarious operatic re-imagining of The Merry Wives of Windsor ? A world-class cast joins Edward Gardner to end our season in a burst of laughter and joy.
Sung in Italian with English surtitles
There will be a 20-minute interval after Act 2.


Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

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…     “Having marshalled a first-class cast, and in dynamic form on the podium, it was Edward Gardner, in his final appearance as the orchestra’s principal guest conductor, who masterminded the occasion, sparky and sparkling from beginning to life-affirming final chord.

In the title role was Ambrogio Maestri, with girth to match his vocal might, and whose authoritative assumption of the fat knight’s persona is internationally acclaimed. Maestri, every bit as magisterial as his name, extrapolated every ounce, no, every gram, of comic possibility from the music, varying his sound from big, booming resonance to mischievous falsetto and bringing lovely variety to the colouring.

Remarkably, this was a performance with neither director nor props, but with Gardner making the action flow so naturally and with such pace as to belie that fact. The singers wore evening dress but, in the case of the men, cleverly subverted, with Lukas Jakobski’s tall Pistola and Peter van Hulle’s shorter Bardolph roughed up to make a classic partnership. The wit and humour of the Garter Inn came over well, both Falstaff’s relationship with his sidekicks and the nature of the man, with his twin obsessions for food and women, manifestly clear. Not only did Gardner get the essential comic timing of this just right – and thus the rest of the opera – but in the part of the Garter landlord, handed Falstaff the bar tab to cue another grand bit of Maestri belly-boasting.”



Review  by  Richard Bratby, ArtsDesk:

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“Edward Gardner gives the downbeat, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra bursts into Verdi’s great opening guffaw. Enter stage left Graham Clark, as Dr Caius. Enter stage right Ambrogio Maestri, as Falstaff. And before a note has been sung, the audience is laughing. I know that in the post-Dumpygate era we’re not supposed to discuss a singer’s physical appearance. It’s just that everything about Maestri – his stature, his gait, his rolling eyes, his genial manner and his big rubbery smile – suggests that he was born to play the Fat Knight. He simply is Falstaff.

That being so, he’s not merely witty in himself, but the cause that wit is in others. His very presence on stage creates a glow of warmth and good humour. It made an excellent starting point for this concert performance, the final instalment in the CBSO’s Our Shakespeare season.     […]

[…]     And Gardner certainly knows how to assemble a cast. Corinne Winters, as Alice Ford, was a perfectly chosen foil for Maestri: all knowing smiles, flashing eyes and sassy self-confidence, with a voice as bright as it was expressive. Falstaff didn’t stand a chance. Jane Henschel found tenderness as well as a hint of steel as a Mistress Quickly who was very much one of the girls while Clark, Hulle and Lukas Jakobski (Pistola) made a suitably gangly bunch of reprobates; reedy of tone and exuberantly in character (it helped that Hulle is small enough to be physically lifted off his feet and bounced up and down by Maestri).

The darkness of Justina Gringyte’s mezzo as Meg Page was nicely chosen to set off Winters’s soprano, just as Pallesen’s tighter, harder-edged baritone made him a suitable contrast and adversary for Falstaff: a combative figure, with a menacing flash of Iago in his jealous outbursts. And gleaming through it all, Fomina’s sweet, sunlit singing as Nannetta: a luminous performance, which Furness (deputising for an indisposed Allan Clayton) matched in ardour if not sonic beauty.

They played off each other like a dream, and it would be a joy to see this lot together on stage. At times, it really felt like they were – swept along by Gardner’s brisk, fluid tempi and the all-pervading presence of Maestri: whether singing a mocking falsetto as warmly and richly as his great monologues, sitting back and drumming his fingers with a huge, satisfied smirk, or unleashing a truly volcanic surge of black, sonorous tone.”     …


Review by Mark Pullinger, BachTrack:

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…     “To say that Maestri has made the title role his own is an understatement. He simply is Falstaff, inhabiting his character even without any trappings of costume. His warm baritone filled Symphony Hall with ease, from growling exclamations of “Ladri!” to falsetto impressions of his supposedly enamoured Alice. But what makes Maestri’s Falstaff incomparable is his appetite for the text; he greedily savours every word, inflecting each with distinctive flavour. He is a vocal actor nonpareil. We don’t just laugh at his Falstaff – we laugh with him. We empathise with him too. His hangdog expression and lugubrious “Mondo ladro” as Falstaff bemoans the wickedness in the world struck a chord, I suspect, in many of us. “Everything’s going downhill.” I know the feeling, pal.

Although this concert performance lacked a lot of the visual comedy – Falstaff squeezing himself snugly into a laundry basket, dressing up in his finery to woo Alice, or masquerading as Herne the Hunter – it still radiated good humour aplenty. There were precious few props, but still a sense of drama as singers – performing off-book – entered and exited each scene, although suspension of disbelief was required when Ford and his henchmen, searching for Falstaff, somehow seemed to miss Maestri cowering behind a gerbera! Maestri’s physique du rôle meant he towered over the cowering Bardolph and lifted Alice clean off the ground.

Corinne Winters, in peachy voice, offered an impish Alice, leading Windsor’s ‘Merry Wives’ in their plotting to teach Sir John a lesson or two. Deliciously phrased, Winters’ Alice is the real deal, soaring in ensemble, sighing in mock adoration at Falstaff’s clumsy courting.      […]

[…]     Cast apart, most of the joy came from Ed Gardner‘s assured handling of the orchestra. Verdi’s miraculous score fizzes and teems with detail and the CBSO revelled in it, from double basses scrabbling around like elephants en pointe as the disgruntled Falstaff recovers from his Thames dunking, to wispy flute fluttering skywards in the great ‘Honour’ monologue. Horns whooped their cuckold motif gloriously, gauzy strings accompanied Nannetta’s Queen of the Fairies. Sir Edward Elgar, describing his Introduction and Allegro, referred to its “devil of a fugue”. No fugue is as fiendish, though, as that which ends Falstaff and Gardner kept tight control, each cog ticking away merrily. As Maestri uttered the words “Tutti gabbàti!” (All are cheated), he pointed his finger at every one of us… and we all laughed together.  “


Review by Alexander Campbell, ClassicalSource:

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…     “The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was on ebullient and scintillating form, enjoying the changing moods and revelling in its part, Edward Gardner leading a fleet and breezy outing, relishing the raunchy, the ethereal and the deliberately overblown passages in equal measure – this was a Falstaff that passed by all too quickly!

The cast was excellent. In the title-role was Ambrogio Maestri, the leading exponent of Falstaff today. Large of frame, and with an impressive and flexible voice, he also has great stage presence and made every syllable of the text brim with meaning… and double meaning. He captured the geniality and the self-delusional aspects of the character perfectly and communicated these in a wonderfully artless way.

Equally impressive was the Ford of Nicholas Pallesen. He has a wonderful sappy baritone, with a ringing top and also much charisma. ‘È sogno o realtà’ was thrilling in its depiction of pent-up jealousy, bewilderment and emotional hurt. He was also very effective in the ensemble passages, always in the picture – and not just because of his dazzling co-respondent shoes!”     …


Review by Christopher Morley, Critics’ Circle:

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“The CBSO’s concert-season and Edward Gardner’s tenure as principal guest conductor could not have ended on a more joyous note – a scintillating performance of Verdi’s final opera, which had a packed Symphony Hall setting the rafters ringing.

This was a predominantly youthful cast, the Merry Wives themselves (Corinne Winters as Alice Ford, Justina Gringyte as Meg Page) pert and winsome, Nicholas Pallesen’s Ford a blustering, insecure paterfamilias, and Sofia Fomina and Sam Furness enchanting as the young lovers Nannetta and Fenton, who cannot keep their hands off each other.

Other roles were characterfully filled in this lively semi-staging, but most engaging of all were the portrayals of the opera’s two wily schemers, Jane Henschel the resourceful Mistress Quickly delighting in her plotting, and, above all, Ambrogio Maestri as her old mucker Sir John, pompous in his self-esteem and touching in his awareness of his decline.”     …




The Royal Opera: Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14 Concert Package, SoundBite and Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Sunday 6th July

Symphony Hall

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Sir Antonio Pappano conductor
Karita Mattila Ariadne/Prima Donna
Roberto Saccà Bacchus
Jane Archibald Zerbinetta
Ruxandra Donose The Composer
Markus Werba Harlequin
Sir Thomas Allen The Music Master
Ed Lyon Dancing Master
Ashley Riches Wig Maker
Jihoon Kim Lackey
Wynne Evans Scaramuccio
Paul Schweinester Brighella
Jeremy White Truffaldino
David Butt Philip Officer
Sofia Fomina Naiad
Karen Cargill Dryad
Kiandra Howarth Echo
Christoph Quest Major Domo

Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos 130’

This concert has a running time of c 2 hours 35 minutes including one 25 minute interval.

The Royal Opera’s visits to Symphony Hall are always highlights of the season, and with Sir Antonio Pappano conducting a cast that includes Karita Mattila and Sir Thomas Allen, this performance of Strauss’s brilliant chamber opera, in the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth, should be something genuinely special. In baroque Vienna, a grand opera company and a panto troupe are forced onto the same stage: what happens next is uproarious, unpredictable – and ultimately sublime.

This production has already attracted some fantastic reviews. Read The Guardian’s 4* review here and the Financial Times’s 4* review here.

Oliver Condy, Editor of BBC Music Magazine explains why he has recommended this afternoon’s concert:

Richard Strauss’s opera is a clever piece of commentary on the role of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art – as well as a hilarious and sometimes slapstick dig at Viennese upper class society. The music, as you’d expect from Strauss, is ravishing – and you might want to keep your ears peeled for some death-defying vocal acrobatics in Part II courtesy of the fiery Zerbinetta…

Concert performance sung in German with English surtitles. Please note surtitles may not be visible from every seat. Please check when booking.



Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “The three nymphs held the trials and tribulations of Ariadne together. They entered rear centre, first Karen Cargill as Dryad and Sofia Fomina as Naiad, to be joined by Kiandra Howarth as Echo. I thought Aussie Howarth, another Jette Parker Young Artist, deserves special mention for her delightful contribution, achieving the appropriate vagueness to her character. Overall the nymphs emanated an ethereal aura, in keeping with their function. This included their angelic guardianship role over Ariadne whilst also expressing her innermost thoughts: her states of tenderness, hatred, traumatism and bliss all emerged. One celestial highlight was their Töne, töne, süsse Stimme (Sing on, sing on, sweet God) one of Strauss’ best loved tunes. Not that Mattila didn’t display these emotions as well, if not better; she was stunning, a prima donna in every sense. Although there was no semblance of a cave, with head slightly bowed, she was a stationary sleepwalker, abandoned by Theseus. How could this hero reward the woman who saved him from Crete and the Minotaur with such a fate? The languor of the situation was made absolute by the silvery harps of Lucy Wakeford and Hugo Webb. I wondered whether Mattila might have donned a shawl/mantle, as referred to in the magnificent libretto of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, but it was superfluous. Her bearing said it all. Mattila was the best Ariadne I have seen and heard, she was Ariadne. When occupying centre stage, which was for considerable periods, she exuded class and presence. There was no need for Pappano to hold back his players whilst she was singing; she effortlessly rose above them with passion and quality – and over the whole register required of her. When she was longing to meet with death, in Wo war ich? Tot? (Where was I? Dead?) I was on the edge of my seat! When she first hears the voice of Bacchus, there was no turn of the head at this double mistake in identity; her catatonic state was so intense it took a while to break it – a nice touch in direction I thought as liberation was still someway off. Comparable to the great Wagnerian ones, the love duet between Mattila and Roberto Saccà as Bacchus, was as wunderbar as the lines of Hofmannsthal. Indeed Saccà, albeit in a lesser role, was as good as Mattila, his heldentenor delivery both forceful and true.”     …



Review by Diane Parkes, BehindtheArras:

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…     “Leading the comedy cast is Jane Archibald as Zerbinetta who is happy to flirt with anyone if it helps her achieve her aim. We see the masterstroke of Strauss in Zerbinetta though because while she appears a superficial butterfly, her words belie a deeper desire to be truly loved and to love in return, creating a parallel with Ariadne.

Karita Mattila is the Prima Donna engaged to play Ariadne. She is imperious and supercilious in the first act but really comes into her own in the second as she takes on the role of the abandoned Ariadne. Here is a woman singing her soul out as she shares her loneliness and begs to die.

Her agony ensures the juxtaposition when the comedy troupe come onstage is all the stronger. She may be in the depths of despair but Zerbinetta and her friends tell us a woman can jump from one man to another with ease.

There are moments of real comedy genius in Ariadne auf Naxos and that humour comes out of the disjoint between the two companies and their outlooks. When the opera company stress that Ariadne is alone and broken-hearted on her island the comic return that it’s a good job they are going to come along to keep her company. Their complete lack of awareness of the spirit of opera makes every opera-goer in the audience smile.

The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House is conducted with plenty of enthusiasm by Sit Antonio Pappano who teases out the subtleties of Strauss’s music but also ensures gusto when needed.

The concert production doesn’t appear to lack anything by being performed without sets – if anything it concentrates the audience’s attention on Strauss’s lyrical wit.”