Giuseppe Verdi, Falstaff, 1893
Boito created a new synthesis from Henry IV parts I and II and  The Merry Wives of Windsor. Passages from all plays occur, but the plot is a tightened version of the Wives. So the focus is on the lighter (?) character of the Fat Knight, as Hazlitt punned, “perhaps the most substantial comic character that ever was invented.”   “The tension between the old knight and the young prince, the low-life and the high-life, is absent here.” (ROH review in the Telegraph)  “But Falstaff unimitated, unimitable Falstaff, how shall I describe thee?” asked Samuel Johnson. “Thou compound of sense and vice; of sense which may be admired but not esteemed, of vice which may be despised, but hardly detested.”  Read about the evolution of the complex character here, his appeal  here,  why the rogue is so loved here.
Joe Green’s last Laugh Verdi’s final opera - and only his second opera buffa - Falstaff was hatched in secret with librettist Arrigo Boito. He wrote to Boito in 1889, “What joy! To be able to say to the public: We are still here!! Make way for us!!” Read the splendid Complete Guide from Gramophone here (includes Terfel’s comments.) Improving on Shakespeare  “Even in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff has not and could not have found his true home because Shakespeare was only a poet. For that he was to wait nearly two hundred years till Verdi wrote his last opera. Falstaff is not the only case of a character whose true home is the world of music; others are Tristan, Isolde and Don Giovanni.” ― W.H. Auden, The Dyer's Hand 
The Music - his greatest work? Toscanini wrote ‘there is no opera more beautiful, more complete, newer and more Latin than Falstaff’. But it’s not, at first meeting, very Verdi – few stand-out arias, no big choruses. The music is quick, witty, tumbling, seamless, matching the fast-paced libretto. Robert Carson describes it as “the most action- packed thing I've ever come across. It never stops ... How Verdi invests the music with such energy, bubbling continuously before breaking into the crazy bits, is real genius.” Read the excellent guide from Pacific Opera here. Then view the San Diego Opera Talk here -  especially the second half, from 13.50 to 23.40. And the great final fugue plays on As You Like It: (All the world's a stage…) “Everything in the world is a jest./…But he laughs well who has the last laugh.” It’s been called “the most joyous piece of music that Verdi ever wrote”. 

Our production, Fri. 30 Nov.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1999 Cond. Bernard Haitink, Dir. Graham Vick. Falstaff (bass-bar.) - Bryn Terfel, Ford (bar.) - Roberto Frontali, Alice Ford (sop.) - Barbara Frittoli  Critical Review