Falstaff, Opera by G. Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi composed what would be his last opera Falstaff at the advanced age of 80, and yet the work’s comedic chops and musical agility would have you believe otherwise. The Maestro himself was initially unsure of whether he could create another major performance so late in life, but the temptation was too strong. He had meant to write another comic opera for decades. His lifelong veneration of William Shakespeare also helped tip the scales in favour of writing Falstaff. The work’s premiere at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala on 9 February 1893 was a moderate success. However, the opera did not truly take off until Arturo Toscanini and later Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein strongly advocated for making it part of the regular repertoire. On the stage of Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence, Verdi’s Falstaff will unfold in all its comedic and musical glory.
The entertaining libretto was produced by faithful Verdi collaborator Arrigo Boito, who was also responsible for the excellent book of the other Shakespearean favourite, Otello. For Falstaff, Boito drew inspiration from the Bard’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor and borrowed several scenes from the drama Henry IV, parts I and II. The story focuses on the comical attempts of Sir John Falstaff, an obese and bumbling knight, to start romantic relationships with not one but two married women. Apart from lust, Falstaff is also driven by greed, as both women have quite wealthy husbands. His inane attempts to gain favour with the ladies and the trouble they create drive the plot forward and secure a steady stream of laughs.
Falstaff underwent a number of revisions after its Milanese premiere, but the comedic charge and the liveliness of the last grand opera by Giuseppe Verdi remained. This season, Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence pays homage to the Maestro’s seldom-seen comedic gift with a faithful rendition of this late-19th century classic.