Tuesday, December 31, 2013

One Verdi Opera per Day: At Last, Falstaff

Tito Gobbi
Today marks the final day of Verdi's bicentennial year. I've made it a point to listen to every one of his operas, minus some of the revisions, in sequence. I came across some unexpected new hits, including Alzira which the composer himself disowned. It was great becoming acquainted with Il corsaro and I masnadieri. Less so with Un giorno di regno.

There are a handful of operas considered to be miracles. I'm not sure how subjective my list is: Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria; Cosi fan tutte; Norma; Aida; Tristan und Isolde; Otello...to these I would add Giuseppe Verdi's final opera, Falstaff 


Verdi's fat knight out of Shakespeare has been much in the news lately. The Metropolitan's new production is a huge hit. The action has been moved from Elizabethan Windsor to Elizabethan II Windsor, circa 1955.I thought everything worked. The costumes, big bellies and big hair, the dirty underwear, what was not to love? Ambrogio Maesteri owns this role. You know why? Language.

Falstaff is about language. Not just for its Shakespearean roots but but for Arrigo Boito's masterful
Boito and Verdi
adaptation and translation. Mrs. Quickly sprouts "Povera donna!"  a dozen times and its never boring. Falstaff makes love to himself, to youth and to the audience as remembers his days in service to the Duke of Norfolk, when he was sottile, sottile, sottile (skinny skinny skinny)

Ambrogio Maesteri

Falstaff's word setting is conversational. You needn't know Italian well to listen to this opera as one would watch a masterful TV sitcom. I Love Lucy and Vitametavegimin comes to mind. Or Carol Burnett as Scarlet O'Hara. The ensembles often sound bus, because the characters are, plotting against one another-wives v. husbands. The forward momentum, often the joy of the music makes Falstaff a "fast opera", over before you know it and you want to hear it again. Now.

Verdi knew what he was doing, saying goodbye with a comedy. Falstaff himself is US. We are all foolish, silly and stupid. We all deserve both comeuppance and forgiveness. Other people need to laugh and need to forgive. My favorite parts of this score are the juxtapositions of the raucous with the sublime


The great final fugue borrows lines form a different Shakespeare play. Tutto nel mondo e burla: The whole world is crazy. This is the farewell of Verdi and his gift to the audience. W know the composer was a taciturn and rather unpleasant man. Sad to think he was suppressing such sentiments, such music for eighty years. But the last six minutes give us a g'bye with happiness and no bitterness. VIVA VERDI.


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