Opera Scotland

Falstaff

Music
Giuseppe Verdi (born Busseto, 10 October 1813; died Milan, 27 January 1901)

Text
Arrigo Boito.

Source
Play The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597) and extracts from Henry IV Parts I and II by William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

Premières
First performance: Milan (Teatro alla Scala), 9 February 1893.
First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 19 May 1894.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 11 September 1894.
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (King’s Theatre), 6 May 1966.

Background
It seems that Falstaff was composed largely for Verdi’s own pleasure after the success of Otello, as a distraction from the problems of old age. He had only once before composed a comedy, Un giorno di regno, in 1840 at the start of his career, and although it is now recognised as a perfectly competent effort, it was considered a failure at the time. Verdi did not even include many comic elements in his serious operas. Exceptions perhaps include the conspirators’ scenes in Un ballo in maschera, which have a certain sardonic wit, and the character of Melitone in La forza del destino, a rather tetchy friar who in some respects provides a foretaste of Sir John Falstaff.

Boito’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s somewhat convoluted play is brilliantly successful. In six short scenes over three acts he cuts and alters characters in a practical manner – Master Page and other minor characters disappear and Nannetta, Anne Page in the play, becomes the Fords’ child. Mistress Ford, instead of copying her husband in proposing her own favoured suitor for their daughter, backs Nannetta’s own choice. The constant interpolation of tantalising snatches of duet for Nannetta and Fenton is just one feature of the genius with which Verdi produces delight after delight in his final operatic masterpiece.

Main Characters
Sir John Falstaff, a middle-aged and dissolute knight (baritone)
Bardolph and Pistol, his companions (tenor and bass)
Master Ford, a merchant of Windsor (baritone)
Alice Ford, his wife (soprano)
Nannetta, their daughter (soprano)
Meg Page, their neighbour, wife to Master Page, another merchant (mezzo-soprano)
Mistress Quickly, a townswoman (contralto)
Dr Caius, a middle-aged Frenchman (tenor)
Fenton, a young gentleman (tenor)

Plot Summary
The plot begins at the Garter Inn, where Falstaff, hoping to obtain money from their husbands, prepares to pay court to Alice and Meg. Unfortunately for him, the two ladies confer, and discover that their letters, apart from the names, are identical. They decide to teach him a lesson. Meantime, Fenton pays court to Nannetta, while her father negotiates her marriage to Caius. Rumours of Falstaff’s intentions make Ford jealous, and he is only reassured by witnessing Falstaff’s humiliation. At the final scene in Windsor Forest, Falstaff is reconciled to his defeat and persuades Ford to accept Nannetta’s marriage to Fenton.

RECORDINGS

EMI (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1956

Conductor: Herbert von Karajan
Philharmonia Orchestra
Tito Gobbi (Falstaff), Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Alice), Rolando Panerai (Ford).

Tito Gobbi was a wonderful interpreter of the title role, which he sang in Britain both at Covent Garden and in Cardiff. His fully formed three-dimensional portrait leaps from the speakers even when the sound of the recording is not quite to modern standards. Anna Moffo and Luigi Alva sing with near ideal sweetness as Nannetta and Fenton, while Fedora Barbieri is a wonderfully ripe Quickly.

WARNER-NVC ARTS (1 DVD) Sung in Italian Recorded 1982

Conductor: Carlo Maria Giulini Director: Ronald Eyre
Orchestra of Royal Opera House Designers: Hayden Griffin & Michael Stennett
Renato Bruson (Falstaff), Katia Ricciarelli (Alice), Leo Nucci (Ford).

This eagerly awaited staging marked Giulini’s reluctant return to the hurly-burly of the opera house after a near fifteen year gap. When Ronald Eyre’s production first appeared it was widely thought to be a trifle sober. But that matched with Giulini’s steadily paced view of the music and reflected Eyre’s many years experience of directing Shakespeare at Stratford. He died shortly after this, and unfortunately did not have the opportunity to develop his operatic work further. The cast is generally good, with Lucia Valentini-Terrani an unusually youthful interpreter of the contralto role of Quickly.

CHANDOS (2 CDs) Sung in English Recorded 2001

Conductor: Paul Daniel
Orchestra of English National Opera
Andrew Shore (Falstaff), Yvonne Kenny (Alice), Ashley Holland (Ford).

Andrew Porter’s effective translation allows all the words to be heard. Barry Banks and Susan Gritton are excellent as Nannetta and Fenton, with Alice Coote and Rebecca de Pont Davies effective as Meg and Quickly. A good sense is achieved of a real performance.

DECCA (2CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1963

Conductor: Georg Solti RCA Italiana Orchestra Geraint Evans (Falstaff), Ilva Ligabue (Alice), Robert Merrill (Ford).

Geraint Evans was synonymous with the part of Falstaff in Britain for a period of around twenty years. He began at Glyndebourne in 1957 before moving on to Covent Garden, where he sang the part regularly, then Scottish Opera, Welsh National, and finally BBC TV. Ligabue is lovely as Alice, Rosalind Elias and Giulietta Simionato are effective as Meg and Quickly, while Mirella Freni, Alfredo Kraus, and John Lanigan are all excellent as Nannetta, Fenton, and Caius. In the last analysis, however, there is a slight sense of anticlimax, due to overdriven conducting of an orchestra that could benefit from more subtlety.

The Cast

Alice
 Mistress Alice Ford, wife of Ford
Bardolfo
 Bardolph, a follower of Falstaff
Caius
 Dr Caius, a Frenchman
Fenton
 a young gentleman
Ford
 a merchant of Windsor
Meg
 Mistress Page
Nannetta
 daughter of the Fords
Pistola
 Pistol, a follower of Falstaff
Quickly
 Mistress Quickly, a confidante of Alice and Meg
Robin
 Falstaff's page
Sir John Falstaff
 a knight

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