The Women Have Their Revenge in Union Avenue Opera’s Falstaff

Two marks destroy a suitor on the make in this Verdi adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor

click to enlarge Janara Kellerman (middle right) plays Quickly and Brooklyn Snow (middle left) plays Nannet in Falstaff. - Dan Donovan
Dan Donovan
Janara Kellerman (middle right) plays Quickly and Brooklyn Snow (middle left) plays Nannet in Falstaff.

Long before Nikki Glaser took a bunch of bad bros on the HBO reality show FBoy Island, Shakespeare gave us The Merry Wives of Windsor — and then Verdi put the story to (glorious) music as Falstaff. Women teaming up to block men on the make? The tale is as old as time.

In Verdi’s opera, now winningly brought to stage by Union Avenue Opera (733 Union Avenue, 314-381-2881), our selfish lout shamelessly professes his love to two women, when in both cases, he’s really after money. When the women get wise to his bullshit (the guy’s not subtle), they destroy him. Even after they have him (literally) tossed in the Thames with the dirty laundry, these righteous sisters aren’t done — and lure him to the forest for further humiliation. There’s a double wedding where someone in a white dress is not who they claim to be, a deception involving forest nymphs and a whole lot of fat jokes. In the end, Sir John Falstaff is utterly defeated — but like any good reality TV villain, he’s also strangely triumphant. “Everything in the world is a joke,” he proclaims, and who can argue with that? No wonder this icon of debauchery went from supporting character to starring in his own spinoff.

Now, there are a few differences between reality TV and Falstaff, and it’s not only that Union Avenue’s production runs three hours including two leisurely intermissions, which is a lot for viewers used to the pace of HBO. On TV, everyone has gorgeous hair and glistening muscles. Not only is our anti-hero famously corpulent, but here baritone Robert Mellon plays him with a Sammy Hagar perm-and-goatee combo.

click to enlarge Robert Mellon (far right) plays Falstaff with Mark Freiman as Pistola and Marc Schapman as Bardolfo in the Union Avenue Opera production. - Dan Donovan
Dan Donovan
Robert Mellon (far right) plays Falstaff with Mark Freiman as Pistola and Marc Schapman as Bardolfo in the Union Avenue Opera production.

Mellon also sports a rather ridiculous fat suit, and in some ways it’s essential for the part (Falstaff must be Falstaffian or none of those jokes make any sense). But it also feels like a prop from another time, the body equivalent of yellowface makeup. This sort of thing likely won’t survive another decade. Good riddance.

Even so, Mellon triumphs, and he’s supported by an enormously talented cast. High honors go to Brooklyn Snow, whose thrilling soprano makes for a dazzling Nannetta, and Janara Kellerman, who nearly steals the show as Dame Quickly. Karen Kanakis provides the opera’s intelligent center as Alice, the married woman Falstaff somehow thought he might profitably seduce. You’ll wonder how he ever thought he had a chance.

But isn’t that always the things about these fatuous bros on the make? They seem far beneath the women they’re trying to seduce, and yet sometimes they still pull it off. Love is blind. (That’s Shakespeare — and these days, it’s a reality show, too.) At Union Avenue Opera, you can revel in the silly soapiness and also get your Verdi. What fun!