“Tutto nel mondo è burla,” Falstaff merrily concludes at the end of Verdi’s autumnal comedy. German baritone Michael Volle must not have much time for merriment, with his schedule full of Wotans and Scarpias, but his first Verdi role at the Metropolitan Opera showed him on jolly good form, surrounded by a delectable cast. A great deal of fun was had both onstage and off at this opening performance of the run.

Michael Volle (Falstaff)
© Karen Almond | Met Opera

Dressed in dirty long underwear, Volle’s Falstaff looked scarcely less disheveled than the pile of dirty linens he found himself in. But the inherent nobility of his baritone gave a hint of the knight’s past glories, and when he rode the orchestra at full strength it was thrilling. He was also a surprisingly charismatic comedian, handling director Robert Carsen’s broad physical humour without lapsing into slapstick. Even if his tone wasn’t quite as Italianate as one would want, he delivered the text with a Lieder singer’s care – this Falstaff may be a rogue, but he’s also a philosopher.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Mistress Quickly) and Michael Volle (Falstaff)
© Karen Almond | Met Opera

But even Volle was no match for Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s irresistible Mistress Quickly. Lemieux was clearly having the time of her life, sparring with Volle’s Falstaff and dipping into a cavernous chest voice. Her full, plummy mezzo provided a solid anchor for the treacherous ensemble work, blending nicely with the other merry wives. While Jennifer Johnson Cano’s lively Meg was underused, Ailyn Pérez shone as Alice, her glamorous soprano gleaming with humour and capping the performance off with a lustrous high C. Pérez's voice has grown in depth, and she can switch on a dime between an impossibly seductive legato into a rich chest voice of surprising strength.

Ailyn Pérez (Alice), Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Jennifer Johnson Cano (Meg), Hera Hyesang Park (Nannetta)
© Karen Almond | Met Opera

Christopher Maltman provided solid support as the jealous Ford, even if his tone turned somewhat blustery in his big monologue. While Hera Hyesang Park’s and Bogdan Volkov sounded underpowered to start, they brought an ardent lyricism to their arias in the final act; Park, in particular, showed off a velvety timbre and steely high notes that point towards bigger roles to come. Rounding out the cast, Carlo Bosi, Chauncey Packer and Richard Bernstein brought impeccable comic timing and incisive musicality to their roles.

Falstaff finale
© Karen Almond | Met Opera

But the real revelation of the afternoon was Daniele Rustioni’s conducting. The Met Orchestra was on superb form, Rustioni bringing out the intricacies of Verdi’s score while maintaining a wonderful lyrical sweep. The orchestra functions as its own character in Verdi's comedy, acting as guide and commentator, and Rustioni brought this fully to the fore without ever covering the onstage action. A sparkling performance, and a revival to savour.