There's a movie theatre under the grocery store I've been shopping at lately. Last night, I was there to get some cheese and eggplant and some other things when I saw the theatre was showing Verdi's Falstaff in twenty minutes time and I decided, on impulse, to see it. It was a production of the New York Metropolitan Opera, supposedly streamed live in HD, though I don't know how live it could have been since the staff paused the video--as we saw when a DVR menu popped up on the screen--just before the end of the intermission. Which was annoying and a bit weird considering the intermission was thirty minutes. But it was to hand out free passes to another show in order to make amends for the fact that it was apparently too hot in the theatre, something I hadn't noticed, but considering it didn't look like many people in the crowded theatre were under 60, maybe someone's wacky internal thermometer urged a vehement complaint.
I'd never seen any production of Verdi's opera though I've developed a big affection for Falstaff over the past few years--the character, who originally appeared in Shakespeare's Henry IV parts I and II and in The Merry Wives of Windsor. It turns out Verdi's opera is essentially an adaptation of The Merry Wives of Windsor with Falstaff's speeches about honour and wine from Henry IV thrown in. And it's a lot of fun, Verdi's compositions providing a nice line of beauty to counterbalance and compliment the silliness of Shakespeare's plot. Though I prefer Henry IV, I do like The Merry Wives of Windsor. I really love the climax in the woods where Falstaff is disguised as Herne--referred to as the "Black Huntsman" in the opera. Arrigo Boito's libretto has Ms. Page mention how this Huntsman hanged himself from Herne's Oak, more closely tying the Huntsman's origins with Odin, who also led a wild hunt during the winter which ended in hanging himself from the tree Yggdrasil. I've heard Odin's Wild Hunt was one of the inspirations for Santa Claus--I read this story on io9 a few days ago which asserts Santa's eight reindeer are derived from Odin's eight legged horse. I actually have a model of Odin's eight legged horse, an argument over the hideous appearance of which precipitated me getting thrown out of where I was living a few months ago. Life's little memes.
I strongly suspect Washington Irving was inspired by Herne and The Merry Wives of Windsor in his creation of The Headless Horseman. So one could say Santa Claus is The Headless Horseman. Well, okay, that'd be a bit of a leap, but it is fun to say that. At any rate, we can say to Megyn Kelly that Santa was a Black Huntsman.
In the role of Falstaff was the rather wonderful Ambrogio Maestri who seemed to effortlessly convey Falstaff's charming, uncomplicated love for sensual pleasure of all kinds. Which, considering it was the two hundred second time he'd performed the role, makes sense. Before the show and during the intermission, "live" interviews with cast and crew were conducted by Renee Fleming and in her interview with Maestri it was shown that Maestri had taken the time during the intermission, after his costume change for the next scene, to make risotto. Apparently he does a cooking show on his YouTube channel. Here he is making something that uses rice and pumpkin:
He said in the interview that he identifies with Falstaff's love of life, women, and wine. It's a shame the decision by the production's director to set the action in the 1950s resulted in Falstaff not having his familiar, big white beard--Falstaff's look, by the way, is supposedly another inspiration for Santa Claus. Otherwise, the decision to move the story to the 1950s was generally pointless but not terribly obtrusive. My only real complaint was that everyone but Anne was put in horns during the climactic scene, which made Ford asking Falstaff, "Who's wearing the horns now?" kind of meaningless.
Maestri's YouTube channel also has footage of him singing in a more traditional production of Falstaff (he's disabled embedding for that one). Show the guy some love, he only has twelve likes so far.
The sound was good in the theatre though, as two guys sitting next to me complained, it wasn't perfect, with levels dropping at times. One of the two guys claimed to have actually worked with John Levine--the orchestra conductor on the production who I recognised from my DVD of Parsifal. The other guy sitting next to me expressed amazement that a turkey that went into an oven at the beginning of a scene came out cooked later in the scene. I thought, "Really? You really don't have any idea how they managed that?" Then in another intermission interview Fleming interviewed a prop master who showed us how--wouldn't you know it--there's a door in the back of the oven for the prop guy to switch out the turkey. I'm going to show these people how to screw in a light bulb, maybe they'll make me their king.
Aside from the sound, and the pausing, and, I guess, the heat, the movie theatre's recent remodel has improved the place rather astonishingly since the last time I was there. The seats have all been replaced by faux-leather upholstered recliner arm chairs. It was by far the most comfortable seat I've ever had for a movie. And there was a bar in the lobby serving good liquor--I saw Glenlivet, Courvoisier, and Belvedere. I asked if they had sherry which I thought I might get in honour of Falstaff. "We have cherry flavoured vodka," said the bartender. This was just a couple weeks after a waitress at a restaurant I talked to had told me she'd never heard of sherry. Is sherry really such an arcane thing?