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The IU Opera Theatre is presenting Giuseppe Verdi's comedy "Falstaff" conducted by David Effron with staging by Vincent Liotta. Shakespeare's tale of the old scallywag's romantic misadventures is delightfully worked out in an opera that has plenty of music, but is more about character and acting than about arias and high note. Saturday night's performance featuring veteran Tim Noble drew a standing ovation from a warmly responsive crowd. Friday night's audience was smaller and less responsive to a performance led by graduate student Howard Swyers. Both Friday and Saturday night's casts offered a lot to like.

Falstaff is a demanding role for the singer, but even more for the actor. He has to be able to bring an audience to laughter, to pity and even to admiration for this marvelously multilayered man. Noble knows every inch of Fat Jack's considerable girth and he's is a master of the role." Howard Swyers has a fine voice and he sang well. He clearly relished the challenge of the part, but the excess padding of the costume made Swyers look like a pinhead and the full range of the character has yet to develop.

Both Friday and Saturday night's casts offered delights. Friday Carol Dusdieker offered an energetic portrayal of Alice Ford, one of Falstaff's would be conquests. Dusdieker's soprano could even rise above and through the massed final ensemble. Juliet Gilchrist on Saturday was a bit more staid, but with a large pleasantly creamy voice. Both Patricia Thomason on Friday and Sophie Roland on Saturday acquitted themselves well in the pivotal role of Dame Quickly. The youthful pair of lovers, Nanetta and Fenton, Samantha Malk and Edward Mout on Friday and Hee Jung Yoo and Jin Hwan Byun on Saturday were lyrical and ardent.

"Falstaff" is a difficult show to bring off because much of it depends on subtle balances among singers. There is a lot of ensemble work and the cues come fast. Conductor David Effron clearly delighted both in making the music and in leading the cast through Vincent Liotta's staging. Here's just a small tip about seating. In the final act of "Falstaff" the whole cast is joined by twenty-seven town's people and a dozen children. Friday, I was close to the stage it looked like a disorganized crush. Saturday, I sat farther back and could appreciate Liotta's choreography of the large group.

I am fascinated by Shakespeare's character Falstaff. I've followed "Fat Jack" through performances of Henry the Fourth part one and two and Henry the Fifth; through reading "The Merry Wives of Windsor," and seeing him in Otto Nicolai and Verdi's operas. It's great to have the old rascal on stage again.

The IU Opera Theatre's production of Verdi's "Falstaff" conducted by has final performances this Friday and Saturday at eight.

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