When to see it
These events are part of the Summer 2018 season.
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.
After being tossed in a laundry basket and tipped into the Thames, Falstaff is feeling distinctly sorry for himself. But when the plot is revealed, Falstaff accepts the mockery with stoical dignity. After all, as the opera concludes, ‘Tutto nel mondo è burla’ – all the world’s a joke.
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.
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Falstaff (Italian pronunciation: [ˈfalstaf]) is an opera in three acts by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901). 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 premiered on 9 February 1893 at La Scala, Milan. Verdi wrote Falstaff, which was the last of his 28 operas, as he was approaching the age of 80. 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 to gain access to their husbands' wealth. Verdi was concerned about working on a new opera at his advanced age, but he yearned to write a comic work and was pleased with Boito's draft libretto. It 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 around 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 from the late 1890s into the next century. 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 and live recordings. 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.