Giuseppe Verdi, starring Bryn Terfel
THU 30 DEC
As the saying goes, “Shakespeare invented him, Verdi made him immortal” – and, surely, it was Bryn Terfel who defined him. Terfel first sung Falstaff in 1999, and in 2021, the bass-baritone superstar returns once more to the role at Grange Park Opera. In a production by Stephen Medcalf first shown in the 17th century Farnese theatre in Parma in 2011 with designs that are truly Falstaffian including sensational backcloths by Italian supremo Rinaldo Rinaldi.
Natalya Romaniw, Janis Kelly and Sara Fulgoni are the conniving wives of Windsor in Verdi’s only comic opera, written when the composer was 80, contradicting the adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The opera is a hymn to the irrepressibility of the human spirit.
As Terfel himself says, “it’s just a joy to portray on the stage this loveable old rogue who can’t help but lie, eat, cheat and drink”.
A life-enhancing evening is guaranteed.
An opera in four acts
Sung in Italian with surtitles in English
Music: Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto: Arrigo Boito
First performance: 9 February 1893, La Scala
UK premiere: 19 May 1894, Covent Garden
In Windsor a fat elderly knight, down on his uppers, Sir John Falstaff, is drinking at the Garter Inn. Broke and deluded, he writes identical love letters to two rich married women, Alice and Meg, who realise what has happened. They vow revenge. Alice’s husband, Ford, also gets to hear what Falstaff is up to.
Ford has lined up his daughter, Nannetta, to marry Caius, an ugly old doctor. Nannetta loves the handsome young Fenton. She stamps her foot.
Alice invites Falstaff to visit her at home. Falstaff, dressed to kill, is mid-seduction when Meg bursts in to alert the “lovers” that Ford, Alice’s husband, is about to arrive home. They hide Falstaff in a laundry basket; Alice orders the staff to throw the basket out of the window into the river.
Alice and Meg dream up another jape. They suggest to Falstaff he dress up as a potent stag and meet them at midnight in Windsor Great Park. The romantic assignation is curtailed when “fairies” appear. (They are the local people come to poke fun at the old knight.) Falstaff believes you die if you see a fairy. He drops to the ground and everyone berates him.
Next on the agenda is the midnight marriage of Nanetta to ugly Caius. Alice wants to protect her daughter and sets up Caius to “marry” Bardolph. Nanetta’s father, Ford, reluctantly accepts that she will marry Fenton.
Falstaff wraps it up, concluding that everything in the world is a joke