Of all the musical forms essayed by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), his opera s have received the least recognition or respect. Yet he was incontestably a man of the theatre. The first professional staging was given by Sadler’s Wells Opera in April 1946. In July 1958, less than a month before he died, the composer attended a performance at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre. After this, it is thought not to have graced the professional stage in Britain again until 2 March 2006 when English National Opera revived the work at the London Coliseum.
In this 1956 BBC studio recording, Roderick Jones makes an ideal Falstaff, commanding and vulnerable in equal measure. His love-song in Act II, ‘O that joy so soon should waste’ is both droll and touching. At the end of play, this butt of ridicule is allowed to become a Master of Ceremonies, conferring his blessing on all and it is a measure of Jones’s multilayered portrayal that the transformation is effected with ease and dignity. This portrayal is the jewel in the crown of a reading in which a whole community of colourful characters comes to life.