Falstaff, Opera by G. Verdi
After decades at the helm of Italian opera, Giuseppe Verdi had largely retired when the impulse came to strike gold one last time. At 80 years old, the Maestro would not take any chances and instead reached for a faithful source: his own hero William Shakespeare. Determined to try his hand at a comedy, Verdi recruited Arrigo Boito to develop an Italian libretto on the basis of The Merry Wives of Windsor and additional elements from Henry IV, Part I and II. And so Falstaff was born. Its premiere on 9 February 1893 at Teatro alla Scala in Milan was a triumph Verdi had not enjoyed in a long time. From there, the opera quickly established itself and soon departed on a tour of Italy and beyond. This season, Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice stages this gem again.
The opera follows the comedic escapades of the destitute, obese, and self-involved knight Sir John Falstaff. When forced to face his loneliness and looming bankruptcy, he hatches a cunning plan to seduce two married women and put his hands on their wealth. As soon as Falstaff tried to implement his schemes, however, they turn out terribly shallow and transparent. His targets, quickly catching wind of his true intentions and amused by his stupidity, invariably turn the con on him and find new ways to expose and humiliate him. In spite of his continued failures, however, Falstaff never loses an ounce of his self-confidence, making sure the audience will keep laughing at him till the end.
Witnessing a performance of Falstaff is a wonderful opportunity to see Verdi’s creative approach evolve once again. In lieu of big memorable arias, there are plenty of melodies that carry the composer’s signature sensibility but without the bombast. This slightly subdued tactic allows Verdi to craft yet another musical language for himself, one that stays true to Shakespeare’s comedy stylings and is bound to make the production at Venice’s Gran Teatro La Fenice a success.