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,
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