Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi, Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma CA

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Jo Vincent Parks

Cinnabar’s Production of “Falstaff” a Pleasure to See and Hear

“Falstaff” is Verdi’s last opera, based upon Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” with some snippets from “Henry IV”. It recounts the escapades of Sir John Falstaff, a well-upholstered knight all too fond of the pleasures of the table. It’s a comic tale of romance, deception and how completely our egos can blind us to our limitations.

Cinnabar’s production offers a warm and endearing performance in the title role by Jo Vincent Parks, a good resonant baritone. His Falstaff is the kind of guy you’d like to sit down and have a beer with. Falstaff, by all rights, should be seen as a scoundrel for scheming to get money by seducing married ladies. But since his chances of succeeding are just about zero due to his outsized girth, somehow his bad intentions seem only clownish, and thus, forgiven. Everybody knows this but him. He is defined by his big belly (“my paunch proclaims me”) and even bigger ego. With Parks, he comes off more like a loveable, beer-swilling teddy bear than a swindler.

Aurelie Veruni and Scott Joiner

The ladies he’s pursuing are played with generous measures of charm by Eileen Morris as Alice and Kim Anderman as Meg. Their voices, both rich sopranos, are exquisite, as is their comic timing. There are other opportunities for showcasing some extraordinary vocal talent. Scott Joiner as Fenton, the one true love of Alice’s own daughter Nannetta, reveals a beautiful tenor voice. Nannetta is performed by the wonderful Aurelie Veruni, who has great chemistry with Joiner. The giddy flower shop lady, Mrs., Quickly, is played with mad abandon by Krista Wigle in a delightful performance enhanced by her lovely voice. William Neely as Alice’s sly and wary husband delivers a noteworthy performance.

Under Elly Lichenstein’snimble stage direction, the setting is moved from Elizabethan times to the 1950s, a device used in the Metropolitan Opera’s presentation a couple of years ago. It’s a move that is not entirely as successful as Cinnabar’s recent presentation of a jazz-age “Marriage of Figaro”. The costumes are fabulous with those gaudy neon colors, and there’s a nod to the era when Falstaff’s underlings come in with a case of – what else? – Falstaff beer. But In the first few scenes, the story is a bit hard to follow. Relationships and the characters’ intentions are not established until later on. Some of the actors’ performances lack the spontaneity that makes them believable.

Eileen Morris

Even so, the last scene and finale emerge as pure fairytale enchantment that could be right out of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. The flawless music direction by the always-brilliant Mary Chun (an SFBATCC 2015 award-winner) guides a spot-on orchestra of twelve. Overall, this may not be not one of Cinnabar’s better operas, but it’s a very enjoyable and entertaining family production.

When: Now through June 28, 2015

8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

2 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $25 to $40

Location: Cinnabar Theater

3333 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma CA

Website: www.cinnabartheater.org