Guiseppe Verdi’s comic opera “Falstaff” will be the Metropolitan Opera high-definition broadcast on Saturday, Dec. 14, at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge. Opera buffs around the world often consider Falstaff as the greatest comic opera in the Italian repertory.
Falstaff is primarily based on Shakespeare’s comedy “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” The opera is heightened with a superb opera libretto by Arrigo Boito, which provided Verdi with a story around which to compose a vast array of overlapping melodies. These melodies are captured both in the vocal interplays of the characters and the depth of orchestral interludes and harmony. Interestingly, arias and choral ensembles of past operas have been vacated and substituted with refined discourses and recitatives of melodic invention.
This was the last opera composed by Verdi, who, at the age of 80, indicated that he was writing Falstaff “for my own pleasure,” free of any tight publisher schedule or the dictates of an opera house commission. Indeed, Verdi closed a brilliant career as the master of interwoven spontaneous melodies, particularly in the orchestra, reminiscent of Il trovatore, La traviata and Rigoletto.
The opera opens in Falstaff’s room in the Gartner Inn, where tension exists with his two servants, Bardolfo and Pistola, and the sudden appearance of Dr. Caius. Key to this scene are the identical love letters that the fool Falstaff writes to be delivered to Mistress Alice Ford and to Mistress Margaret Page, both wealthy married women, as a cover up for his pursuit of their husbands’ money.
In the next scene in the garden of Alice Ford, the two “merry wives” express distain for Falstaff and, along with the assistance of Mistress Quickly and daughter Nannette, plan for their revenge. Husband Ford gets wind of Falstaff’s seduction of Alice. In the next scene, Ford barges into the room of his house along with several henchmen to lynch his wife’s lover. However, Falstaff, after learning of Ford’s approach, hides in a hamper. At the end of the scene, after Ford was unable to find Falstaff, the women order the hamper to be thrown out a window into the ditch.
Act III opens with Falstaff bemoaning his misadventures, only to be interrupted by Mistress Quickly, who invites Falstaff to a midnight rendezvous in Windsor Forest, secretly organized to frighten him with nymphs and fairies dressed in costume. Falstaff enters the forest as a huntsman bedecked with antlers. In the process, Ford, in mistaking the actors behind the costumes, performs a marriage ceremony between Nannette and her lover Fenton, rather than Ford’s parental choice for her, Dr. Casius. With Ford being duped, Falstaff is exonerated and leads the company assembled in a superb closing musical fugue, proclaiming, “All the world’s a joke.”
Robert Carsen directs this new Met production, imported from the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, with the comic bass, Ambrogo Maestri, in a spectacular performance of the title role. Of equal significance is the return of James Levine as conductor and vocal coach. Those attending will experience comic opera at its finest. Snacks and beverages will be provided during the intermission — those preferring a full lunch may bring their own.