Merry Wives reviews

Simon Ames in the Surrey Mirror, 21 July

Surrey Opera has a reputation for high standards coupled with innovation and their latest production is a multifold confirmation of their ability.

The transformation of German composer Otto Nicolai’s plot of the 1840s to suburban Windsor of the 1930s demanded not only a good working knowledge of the German language but an adeptness at re-shaping the rhyming couplets that convey the story of the aging Sir John Falstaff and his various attempts at amorous adventures. This detailed work was carried out by Jonathan Butcher who directed the performance as well as conducting the orchestra and chorus, a massive achievement by any standard.

The opera opens – unusually – with a staging of the overture in which the plot is cleverly introduced. Designer Prav Menon-Johansson designed a simple but effective set, giving performers and chorus plenty of room for extensive movements.

Tim Baldwin’s characterisation of the lecherous Sir John Falstaff was superb and Jane Streeton and Rebecca Stockland performed the merry wives of Mrs Ford and Mrs Page to perfection respectively.

The sub-plot of a love affair between Anne Page (daughter) played by Zoe Milton-Brown and her young suitor Fenton, well projected by Stephen Aviss, was an engaging twist to the main theme.

The aggrieved husbands, played by Christopher Adams as Mr Ford and Leandros Taliotis as Mr Page helped to bring out the best of the witty ensembles, culminating in the riotous finale set in nearby Windsor forest, where Sir John receives his just desserts.

This was a first class production and the first night audience responded with long and appreciative applause. Principals, chorus and orchestra captured every nuance of the elegance and joyfulness of the work. The outstanding overall contribution of Jonathan Butcher is grounds for top accolades and national recognition for an innovative contribution to good music.

Frank Ruhrmond in The Cornishman, 24 July

…this revival with its new English translation by talented Jonathan Butcher; who also conducts the orchestra and has directed the production, is set in the 1930s, an era of straw boaters and striped blazers… while this neither adds nor detracts from the proceedings, it is acceptable.

…opera is all about music and singing and in both these areas the production is powerful. Without exception, the principal voices are superb… The members of the large chorus, 18 ladies and 14 gentlemen, are splendid, and the two dozen members of the orchestra, among them on double bass the Minack’s own general manager Zoe Curnow, are in fine form.

While the many “bravos” they received on the opening night were well deserved, one at least was for that “old Minack magic”, the golden full moon, which came up as the curtain came down.