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The Story

Old, large and lecherous, Sir John Falstaff can’t resist the ladies. But they can resist him, and three of them plot to put an end to his advances once and for all.

Read more… (Contains spoilers)

Background

Giuseppe Verdi's final opera tells the tale of a portly knight with an irrepressible appetite for life, love and laughter. Falstaff crowned a career that spanned more than fifty years. Arrigo Boito – with whom Verdi also collaborated on Otello and the revisions for Simon Boccanegra – created a sparkling libretto based on Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV Parts I and II. Verdi matched the libretto’s sprightliness with a score full of quicksilver switches in mood and tempo. Falstaff had its premiere in Milan in 1893 when Verdi was 79 and was instantly hailed as a masterpiece.

Robert Carsen's production is set in 1950s England and draws out the warmth, love of food and comedy at the heart of the opera. Falstaff moves from comic intrigue, as the 'merry wives' outmanoeuvre the scheming men, to tender romance and infectious merriment. Musical highlights include Falstaff's monologue in Act I in which he mocks honour, Fenton's lovestruck sonnet in Act III, the wives’ jubilant plotting ensembles and the final – sublime – fugue in praise of laughter.

News and features

  1. Shakespeare and opera

    3 July 2012

    With the World Shakespeare Festival in full swing, we take a look at the link between the Bard and the lyric stage.

On Wikipedia

Falstaff is an opera in three acts by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. The libretto was adapted by Arrigo Boito from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from Henry IV, parts 1 and 2. The work, described by its creators as a commedia lirica, premiered on 9 February 1893 at La Scala, Milan. Verdi wrote Falstaff, which was the last of his twenty-eight operas, as he was approaching the age of eighty. It was his second comedy, and his third work based on a Shakespeare play, following Macbeth and Otello. The plot revolves around the thwarted, sometimes farcical, efforts of the fat knight, Sir John Falstaff, to seduce two married women for mercenary reasons.Boito persuaded Verdi out of retirement to compose the opera, which took the collaborators three years from mid-1889 to complete. Although the prospect of a new opera from Verdi aroused immense interest in Italy and round the world, Falstaff did not prove to be as popular as earlier works in the composer's canon. After the initial performances in Italy, other European countries and the US, the work was neglected until the conductor Arturo Toscanini insisted on its revival at La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Some felt that the piece suffered from a lack of the full-blooded melodies of the best of Verdi's previous operas, a view strongly contradicted by Toscanini. Conductors of the generation after Toscanini to champion the work included Herbert von Karajan, Georg Solti and Leonard Bernstein. The work is now part of the regular operatic repertory.Verdi made numerous changes to the music after the first performance and editors have found difficulty in agreeing on a definitive score. The work was first recorded in 1932, and has subsequently received many studio recordings and live tapings. Singers closely associated with the title role have included Victor Maurel (the first Falstaff), Mariano Stabile, Giuseppe Valdengo, Tito Gobbi, Geraint Evans and Bryn Terfel.

Abstract taken from the Wikipedia article Falstaff (opera), available under a Creative Commons license.