Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Verdi’s Falstaff Gather St. Louis Talent On The Opera Stage

Jacob Lassetter and Karen Kanakis are baritone and soprano, respectively. They don’t get to play their roles on stage as husband and wife very often. Lassetter often plays the role of the wrong man, father, or villain to Kanakis’ heroine if they are working together.

The couple will be on stage for two weekends as Ford and Alice this summer. They are one of the scheming partners at the heart of Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff at Union Avenue Opera.

Kanakis says, “When we’re together in a play, it’s extra special.” We love the fact that we can go to rehearsals together, create our characters together, have these conversations with one another, and exchange ideas – it’s really special. In rehearsal, we can have that conversation about, “Why are they still married, if they’re fighting? or What brought them to this point?” What are their next steps?

Falstaff, running August 29 & 30, and August 5 and 6 at the UAO. This opera adapts (and some argue improves upon?) Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, borrowing from Henry IV Part 1, and Section 2 to flesh out Sir John Falstaff’s character and weave together the multiple plots a bit better.

Lassetter says that “many of the characters from The Merry Wives of Windsor are cut or combined.” It’s almost like a movie adaptation of a book. It’s just a tightened version of the book that I feel works a lot better. Merry Wives is not a favorite play of Shakespeare’s. However, Falstaff seems to be a better comedy than most.

According to the couple, Falstaff is an excellent entry point for opera audiences. in which no one is married or buried is a great way to get started with opera. Kanakis compares the plot to a Windsor Real Housewives with a group of wives who plot to bring down the scheming, but somewhat bumbling, Falstaff. Falstaff is presented in original Italian with English subtitles. It allows viewers to enjoy Verdi’s works without losing any of the fun.

“I think people might think that opera is higher-brow than it is. Kanakis says that opera is simply musical theater. It can be viewed as a musical or as a movie you might be viewing in another language. Supertitles and translated projections will be provided so you don’t miss any details, even though you’re hearing it in another language. It’s not very highbrow, especially when it is comedy. It’s very complex music.

UAO’s production of Falstaff offers the opportunity for audiences to hear some of the best local operatic voices St. Louis has.

Lassetter says, “I think what makes the show special is the fact that many of us worked together.” Some outstanding artists aren’t St. Louis-based, but Karen and I both live here. Bobby Mellon, the actor who plays Falstaff, resides here. There are many local talents. We’re also very happy to have non-local talent. It’s amazing to see such a diverse show featuring St. Louis talent.

Union Avenue Opera presents Falstaff on July 29 and 30, as well as on August 5 & 6. Tickets range from $35 to $55 and are available at unionavenueopera.org.

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