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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Falstaff

Shakespeare's fat knight goes a-courtin' in Windsor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Va, vecchio Ambrogio! Ambrogio Maestri returns to the role of Falstaff at the Met.
Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The big fella is back. Ambrogio Maestri revives his acclaimed portrayal of Jack Falstaff in this welcome revival of the Robert Carsen  production.

What is Falstaff?
This is Verdi's last opera. Falstaff came at the end of a life of theatrical and musical triumphs, all of them confined to the world of tragedy. This adaptation of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor (with a libretto by Arrigo Boito that also incorporates bits of Henry IV Pt. I and II) caught everyone by surprise when it premiered in 1893. Verdi was then 79 years old, and he had not written a comedy since 1840.

What's the story?
Sir John Falstaff is a towering comic figure, a morbidly obese knight who is at once wise and foolish, cowardly and brave, and dishonorable in the extreme. Lacking the readies to keep his paunch in a healthy, oblate shape, Falstaff conceives of a plan: to woo the wealthy wives of two local merchants and lay his sticky fingers on their respective husband's purses. He writes them identical love letters. Reading them, the wives: Meg Page and Alice Ford, plot revenge.

Tell me something else interesting.
Verdi and Boito kept their work on Falstaff a deep secret until the opera was ready to be performed. In their meetings and correspondence, they covertly referred to their final collaboration as as Il pancione ("The Big Belly".)

What's the music like?
Melodies in Falstaff but the entire fabric is woven from threads that glitter with invention. There are no formal numbers but there are many ariettas, sounds and sweet airs that delight and beguile the ear. The best of these are sung by Nannetta (Alice's daughter), a high soprano. Falstaff is a powerhouse role for a star bass-baritone, usually later in his career.

How's the production?
Robert Carsen moves Sir John's antics to 1950s England, and confines most of the action (including the forest scene) within the walls of the Garter Inn. Some of the scenes (Falstaff in bed, the second scene of Act II) have the quality of a television sitcom--with the antics that result in Falstaff's dunking in the Thames recalling an especially hectic episode of Cheers. The finale, with the whole cast in antlers rolling a pajama'd Falstaff down a long dining room table has the quality of a nightmare, especially since the act's end has everyone out of antlers and back at the supper table!

Who's in it?
The large gem that is Mr. Maestri is given a stunning supporting cast. Ailyn Perez is Alice Ford. Marie Nicole-Lemieux is Mistress Quickly. Jennifer Johnson Cano is Meg Page. Nannetta, the soubrette role is soprano Golda Schultz.

Why should I see it?
If you like Shakespeare, see it. If you love Verdi, see it. If you want to laugh, see it. If you have a pulse, get up, buy tickets and go see it.

When does it open?
Falstaff stomps back onto the stage on Feb. 22, 2019.

Where can I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save the $10 service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recordings do you recommend?
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