Programme booklet »Falstaff«

Page 1



























FALSTAFF COMMEDIA LIRICA in three acts Text ARRIGO BOITO Based on The Merry Wives of Windsor (as well as short excerpts from Henry IV) by WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE



2 flutes / 1 piccolo / 2 oboes 2 clarinets / 1 bass clarinet 2 bassoons / 4 horns / 3 trumpets 3 trombones / 1 bass trombone timpani / percussion harp / guitar violin I / violin II / viola cello / double bass horn / bell


Ricordi archives Milan

WORLD PREMIÈRE 9 FEB 1893 Teatro alla Scala PREMIÈRE AT THE HOUSE ON THE RING 21 MAY 1893 (guest performance by the Teatro alla Scala) Vienna Court Opera PREMIÈRE AT THE HOUSE ON THE RING 3 MAY 1904 (first own production) Vienna Court Opera DURATION

2 H 30 M



SYNOPSIS Sir John Falstaff, knight and bon vivant, who has more good days in his past than in his future, has reached the end of his financial means. However, he knows neither fear nor self-doubt and sets out on new adventures. He writes exactly the same passionate love letter to two society ladies – Alice Ford and Meg Page – from which he promises himself not only amorous escapades but also financial reward. However, the women do not return his interest. On the contrary, they are outraged and devise a plan to disgrace the conceited knight. They send Mistress Quickly with a message inviting Falstaff to a supposed assignation at Ford’s house. At the same time, Falstaff’s corrupt servants reveal their master’s plans to Ford, Alice’s husband. He also prepares for a masquerade and makes his way to Falstaff’s house, introducing himself as “Signor Fontana” and pretending to be in love with Alice Ford – outrageous! The feigned plan: the “irresistible” Falstaff is to seduce Alice and cause her moral fortitude to crumble. Having been unfaithful once, she would be a sure conquest for Signor Fontana. The real plan: Ford wishes to expose Alice’s infidelity. Now events follow in quick succession. Falstaff visits Alice, but the wives’ derisive game takes a serious turn. Filled with jealousy, Ford turns up, and the wives must quickly get rid of Falstaff. They tip him into the Thames – and ridicule him vociferously. As if that isn’t enough, Falstaff is given the run-around once again. At a second feigned tryst in the park (he is to appear as the Black Huntsman wearing a pair of antlers on his head) he is tormented and bullied by the entire group, dressed up as elves and goblins. Ford’s plan to marry his daughter Nannetta to the dotty Dr Caius is also thwarted by the women. In the midst of the chaos, Nannetta is married to her beloved Fenton. In the end, laughter wins the day, and the entire company acknowledges the ludicrousness of life.

Previous pages:




INCLUSION OF AN OUTSIDER al Falstaff was first performed in 1893 and is quite unique in Verdi’s œuvre. Apart from his early work Un giorno di regno, it is his only comic opera. The piece is often interpreted as the summary of a past master who has “seen it all.” mam Summary is probably not the right word. Falstaff is certainly not the idealised legacy of an old man who is perhaps embittered; no, it is an infinitely fresh work that takes a new approach. With this comedy, Verdi subjects his work to radical rejuvenation; it is essentially a step out into the future. With a tremendous leap, Verdi bypasses an entire musical era – that of verismo – and creates an anti-illusionistic language, a piece full of subtle charisma. Not a single note is superfluous in this opera! al And what is the reason for this new direction? How does this opera differ from Verdi’s other works? mam In his earlier operas and indeed in the works of other composers, theatrical momentum provided the

foundation for the music; so the music grew out of the dramatic situation. In Falstaff, however, this play-acting is the real propulsion for the music, the theme that the opera tackles. Acting and reacting with and to one another become the real subject here, and this inspires music that points far into the future. It is well known that Verdi felt that he had written Falstaff “for his own amusement.” And he succeeded in creating a score of rigorous modernity. He uses the entire palette of his cre­ ativity to develop something new. For example, when he composed elf music, this was to be understood as a quotation and not as mystical or illusionistic. al What does this mean for the director? mam Falstaff is actually an antipsychological opera. You don’t ask why any one of the characters does this or that, or where he comes from. The past is not important. What matters is the present, the current moment. This music, in which everything is amped up to a sound gesture, seems by its very nature – in contrast to, for example, the earlier Puccini operas – completely



without longing. As a director, I have to transfer the enthusiasm and precision expressed in the score to the stage and translate it into precise body language. al When the focus is on body language, on the actual acting, the stage design as such takes a back seat. Moreover, this is not meant to be illusionistic or naturalistic. As both set designer and director, what role do you see for the stage design in this work? mam I have been working on Falstaff for many years and have even staged it several times. The result of this work is that I need less and less decoration on stage in each production. Now I want to concentrate on the essentials of the scene. So no nostalgic half-timbered buildings, just what is absolutely necessary: a theatre-like wooden incline that can be tilted – this creates an upper and a lower view, a top view and a bottom view. The anti-illusionism of this score also led me initially to show an empty, almost Shakespearean stage. al You contrast this bare stage, which symbolises the life of the citizens, with the colourful world of Falstaff. So we have two opposing realities before us. One could almost say that the title character leads a life underground, independent of the machinations of the others. mam Yes, and these two worlds, which are mutually dependent, collide. Falstaff lives in (and from) what the bourgeois world discards. He has enriched his under-stage area with colours. With a wise philosophy of life, he eventually grew old and fat. Society, on the other hand, has forgotten

him, or rather, repressed him. But the character has its origins in the age of eroticism and is actually an ageing Don Giovanni. Falstaff was not taken by the “devil,” but simply slipped and became an outsider. And just as Don Giovanni, although he was a “villain,” brought colour into the lives of others, so too is Falstaff (who is actually just as bad a fellow) who takes the boredom out of the drab, everyday bourgeois world as soon as he encounters it again. He is the salt in the soup of these dimea-dozen people. His fat belly, which Caius literally bounces off, is ultimately the distorting mirror that forces everyone else to undertake some ruthless stocktaking. al Falstaff is therefore the driving force, the centre of the action. And those who run into him get to know each other. mam Correct. Through Falstaff they learn the existential difference between being and appearing to be. Boring everyday people become individuals. He makes women blossom, makes them dream and sing about their desires and robs men of their self-confidence. Ultimately, in the final act, he is their bitter self-realisation. Nevertheless, apart from his arietta, Falstaff does not have any music that is solely his. Although he is the one who concentrates all the energy of the others, Verdi portrays the charisma of the character through the reactions and reflections of the others. All music and action is related to Falstaff, a character who is completely at peace with himself. At the same time, this makes everyone around him insane and feisty. al Is that the reason why the opera is named after Falstaff? In Shakespeare’s version, the



work is called The Merry Wives of Windsor, as is the case with Nicolai’s version. mam Interestingly, as he was composing the music, Verdi repeatedly wrote that the main character was in fact Alice. She is the one who “wears the trousers”, so to speak, and who intervenes most actively in events. Never­ theless, as already mentioned, it is Falstaff who inspires the theatre and the action. al Despite his thieving, his seductive skills, and his not necessarily favourable character, Falstaff does not seem particularly unsympathetic to the audience. Why not? mam He understands the world as a child does: for him, reality is what is current at any given moment. He grouses about the world, but the next moment he is completely transformed by a “love letter.” Suddenly he is all fired up and full of energy. And more, he can even experience fiction as reality. Falstaff is able to become so absorbed in his play that it becomes the truth for him. That is why we, who are sitting in the audience, also forgive his machinations.


He is also finally accepted on stage... mam That’s the great thing about this comedy. In the end, in a tragedy, one person, or a group, is usually superior to the others in some way. In a comedy, all the actors are usually superior to the person they are attacking. Here, in Falstaff, however, the outsider is included. This is beautifully shown by the final fugue. In this fugue each character has his/her own voice. And each voice is indispensable, but at the same time involves all the others. It is a tonality in which no voice is superior to the other and each protagonist has been assigned his or her place – including Falstaff. Here everyone comes together like a puzzle and forms a whole. Of course, Falstaff is not a changed man, he will continue to live pretty much as he did up until then, but he has nevertheless been accepted into the community – and this is what this ending shows. This is also a kind of society that, in my opinion, Verdi envisioned as a utopia: one in which no one is excluded, and everyone is accepted as their own unique personality.




ANSWERS IN THE MUSIC DIRECTOR AND SET DESIGNER MARCO ARTURO MARELLI The compelling magic inherent in Marco Arturo Marelli’s productions seems to be enduring and constant in its intensity. Can we fathom it? Not completely, to be sure. All the more reason – or perhaps nevertheless – we should consider some of the parameters of his productions. Marelli’s signature is always unmistakable, no matter how different his stage designs and productions may be, since they are always the same solid pillars on which his scenic and visual realisations rest. These are namely: constantly striving to serve the work in question in the best possible way; extensive knowledge of the respective piece, resulting from intensive, constantly inquiring, profound engagement with it; the avoidance of any routine and the associated highest level of authenticity; an unmistakable, doubtless innate feeling, even talent, for capturing the atmosphere and content of a setting and conveying the artistic message thus identified; and last but not least, experience – a confident sense of style and skilled craftsmanship.

For Marelli, however, the foundation for all this is always the music, the composition for the piece at hand. From this he develops the sustainable framework for his interpretations. His interpretations are readily accessible to a knowledgeable and art-loving audience, regardless of whether they are popular works like Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte or less common pieces such as Schoenberg’s Jakobsleiter. Perhaps Marelli has a head start, a conceptual advantage stemming from the fact that he is both a set designer and a director? At all events, this gives his productions the spatial feeling, the aesthetic and emotional design, the interaction between the actors and the philosophicalintellectual story-telling the same creative momentum and meaningful balance with one another. From the outset, Marco Arturo Marelli attached great importance in his work to allowing both an intellectual and an emotional narrative style, to place each in the most transparent relationship possible, and to merge them with each other to arrive



at a single vanishing point. The fact that he not only succeeds in doing this with individual operas, but also across the boundaries of the work, as demonstrated by the visual and content-related linking of the two one-act pieces Jakobsleiter and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi – which were shown one after the other and perceived as a coherent whole – is one of the finest moments in theatre operations. But how does Marelli manage to understand the inner structure of the music for a work, to get close to the secret of the composition, to trace the individual motivations that led the composer to write something exactly this way and not any other way? Through detailed and repeated reading of the text and music as well as a precise analy­sis of the composer’s musical implementation of the libretto. Marelli also likes to look for inspiration through listening carefully to many different recordings and, if possible, dissimilar interpretations. From all this, his first ideas crystallize, different images begin to emerge in his mind and ideas for the space become more concrete. If one takes his Zauberflöte for Vienna as an example, it becomes clear that Marelli refuses to follow a typical interpretation that is only obvious at first glance, in which a clear distinction can be made between good (Sarastro) and evil (Queen of the Night). Marelli took Mozart’s idea seriously, which resonates in the last scene, that true perfection is only achieved through the union of Tamino and Pamina as a couple, that is, through the union of the female and male elements. For him, not only the dark world of the queen, but also the exclusively intellectual, sterile

world of Sarastro and his entourage seemed less desirable. It is therefore the structure and the message of the music from which Marco Arturo Marelli extracts answers to questions: what stylistic means he should use to convey his thoughts and feelings to the audience; whether the story to be told necessitates realistic implementation or whether the work requires a more abstract space; whether the set should remain unchanged throughout or whether the stage needs to evolve, and how such transformations should be accommodated in the flow of the music – in soft transitions or in hard breaks. In this context, we should point out a remarkable trick in Marelli’s production of La sonnambula. The musically central importance of singing, the voice par excellence, in a typical bel canto work underwent a plot-related transformation in the production in question, as the formerly emotionally disturbed title character presented her final aria in lieto fine to the audience as a transformed, self-confident and celebrated singer. The form of the aria had become coherent content. An example of the optical form of an inner dramaturgy developed from the music is Marelli’s Viennese Falstaff. The tilting incline that dominates the stage, which allows a rapid transformation of the scenery – from the grey bourgeois world to the space of the run-down outsider and back – enables the representation of two spaces that are interdependent, like the two sides of a coin. This implementation, with its extremely fast, sudden transformation possibilities, seems to have been taken directly from the score, which has no smooth transitions and



therefore requires hard scene breaks. Sometimes it takes several steps to achieve the optimal result. For his first Falstaff, Marelli attempted to realise the idea of the piece on a revolving stage before, twenty years later in Vienna, after renewed intensive study of the music, he found the above-mentioned solution. And Strauss’ Capriccio also underwent a conceptual change over the years. While Marelli had designed an unchanging set for Dresden – as intended by the composer – in Vien­­na he looked for a new visuali­ sation of this rather static piece, in which different spaces, from different historical times and levels of action, could intertwine and reflect one an­ other – in keeping with the compositional texture of the work, which uses styles, sounds and forms from many eras.

Last but not least, we would like to point out a not insignificant aspect of Marelli’s interpretations, which not only does not contradict everything that has been said so far, but can actually be understood as complementing it. Marelli is a theatre practitioner through and through, someone who knows the pitfalls of the opera business and navigates around them artis­ tically. Just think of the stage design of Die Schweigsame Frau. Thanks to its design, the snail-shell-like tower which dominates the scene and into which the old Sir Morosus retreats helps the singers to rise above the sound waves of the orchestra and remain intelligible. With Marelli, it goes without saying that this is not a design element that is often encountered, but rather a solution that is inherent to the piece and stimulates the imagination.




SHAKESPEARE Shakespeare has come down to us in the surest and most infallible form in which genius can furnish evidence of its existence: through the works of its soul. His plays are the clearest proof of his existence. Many people have proof of their existence, with a birth certificate and a death certificate, yet might as well not have lived as far as history is concerned. Shakespeare received no certificates from pastors, magistrates or local doctors, and yet he lived. We would give much today to be able to read a little in the soul of this myriad-minded man, as Coleridge so aptly called him. Yet his soul falls silent in his works: it has evaporated in the thousands-strong parade of his dazzling characters. Many consider Macbeth to be the strongest eruption of drama that this planet has emitted thus far, and yet to this day we do not know what Shakespeare’s intentions were. Did he intend to write a box office draw chock full of horrific effects that audiences would involuntarily succumb to? Or did he want to create a contrast to Hamlet with a hero who is all action? Perhaps he set out to write a new, powerful presentation of Scottish stories that became topical with James’ accession. Or did he want to proclaim the latest truths about the world and destiny revealed to him at the pinnacle of his journey here on earth? All these questions are manifestations of a Philistine attitude. The impression we are left with in Shakespeare, even in his simplest comedies, is always monumental irrationality.

The mysterious threefold quality of genius mentioned in my introduction is seen in Shakespeare in a particularly suggestive form. He is the most complete and most forceful expression of his day. He influenced his era in the most dominant and lasting fashion, even though at the time people overlooked the source of this dynamic force. However, the overwhelming impression we are left with is that he himself sits enthroned behind all these reciprocal interactions, an unfathomable and unique absurdity. To condense the essence of this incomprehensible man to a single word, one might perhaps say: he was the most consummate actor who ever lived. He was the most passionate yet objective portrayer of human nature, sub­servient to and yet the sovereign master of his characters, with all their peaks and valleys, plateaus and abysses, tenderness and bestiality, actions and contradictions. He is the crudest butcher and the most feminine sentimentalist, the finest artist and the most tasteless barbarian, who, like the aristocrats of his day, swaggers under a plethora of jewellery. He stops at nothing and favours nothing. After all, it is all just a role that must be played as credibly and as memorably as possible. For this reason he is also completely unscrupulous in the use of the words of others; he has no concept of plagiarism. He takes text wherever he finds it, secure in the knowledge that his presentation of it will make it something better than the text ever was. He



himself never appears, and when one day he has played through the entire repertoire of humanity, he will close his glittering puppet theatre, step out into the night and vanish for ever from the audience’s view. This stage genius had to give life to his fantasy, which encompassed everything that exists and even more than that, in a wooden sailors’ tavern. And what is even more remarkable is that this most erotic of all dramatists put on plays without women actors. But the most singular thing of all is that in his dramas, which had to manage without scenery, the mute external world is an influencing factor at every step of their development, determining the destiny of men to nearly the same extent as the real characters do. In Shakespeare, the setting is as distinctly painted and as organically linked to the action as we see in no modern dramatist, despite the fact that the latter has all the techniques of illusion at their disposal. For example the first scene in Hamlet, where the ambience is an integral part of the exposition. You can feel it: all who enter this scene cannot help but see Hamlet’s father as his ghost emerges from the gloom and darkness. Or night in Macbeth: it is virtually one of the conspirators. We might also consider the storm-whipped heath in Lear, the scent of flowers, the moonlight and the nightingale’s song in Romeo and Juliet, the magical woods in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In true pantheistic fashion, nature plays a role in every aspect, causing emotions and deeds to arise mysteriously from her bosom. This is linked to the fact that Shakespeare is one of the greatest poets of the unconscious, of the vague and dark urges that are the true reasons for

our actions and yet almost completely evade our own guidance. This is also the source of the elemental effect of his plays, which have the character of primary happenings, of intrinsically natural events; it is the source of his inimitable realism which comes not from the surface but from the depths. It is also the source of his inscrutability which he shares with life. We saw earlier that by delving more deeply than before into the black pit of the human soul, the Montaigne man arrived of necessity at agnosticism. A similar world feeling is what makes Shakespeare’s plays so chaotic. This also extends to the external form. Shakespeare is the playwright of a diverse succession of scenes, of dissipated structure. This is precisely what makes his theatre immortal. For the “rigid system” of Classicism can only survive as long as a passion for rationalistic structure of the artistic senses predominates; Shakespeare’s dramatic form, however, speaks to all times. Indeed, not just to all times, but to all classes, ages and levels of education. It is to Classical drama what the popular novel is to the artist’s novel. The former is also immortal despite the fact that every age declares it dead. In his History of German Dramatic Art, Devrient calls Shakespeare’s plays “the nonpareil of mediaeval drama.” And indeed it is so. Despite all its clumsy technique and lack of individualisation, mediaeval drama was a prize and a jewel, the discovery of the true form of drama which alone was vital and worthwhile. A procession of images and characters, mysticism and supernaturalism are the innermost essence of all theatre arts. The last great magician of the theatre to come out of European culture



returned to this eternal form, albeit by a circuitous path. If at times Ibsen seems to come precariously close to the classical unity of place and time, it is nothing more than an illusion. The fact that the scene remains unchanged is a trivial formality; in its varied complexity and diversity, in its myriad interactions allowing past and present to play along in almost physical fashion, the action itself derives from a romantic feeling of art. As for supernaturalism, with the distance of a generation we can today recognise that literature like Ghosts and Rosmersholm differs from fairy tales only in their modern and therefore more sophisticated technique. Shakespeare’s dramas are really plays, and that is what makes them so amusing. They present the whole of existence as a dream, as a masquerade, or, put in more bitter terms, a madhouse. Action is madness: this is the fundamental truth of all his verses, not just of Hamlet. He created an entire cosmos of men of action, a complete zoology of our so varied species. But he scorned and laughed at them all. His entire life was devoted to drama, the portrayal of actions. Creating images of human action was his mission here on earth, and

he himself considered all action pointless. His greatest genius lay in the way he rose above his own activities. His entire world-view is condensed in his epitaph: “we are such stuff as dreams are made on.” This also seems to me to be the meaning of Hamlet. Hamlet lives so intensively in his imagination that he anticipates everything that is yet to happen in his dreams, considers, thinks all the way through and finally thinks out of existence. However, we can experience things fully only once: in our imagination or in reality. Through no fault of his own and perhaps even against his will, Hamlet opts for the former. He dreams the world so intensely that he can no longer live in it. And what was this Shakespeare himself, if not an airy dream vision or a flickering play of light, a trembling ghost and nightmare who travelled the world, uncanny and unreal, mirroring all the colourful events of reality and flitting over them like a giant illusion? He dropped like a huge, bright firework, tingeing the heavens with flaming sheaves of passion and orbs of wit and drawing behind him a unending trail of pattering laughter and glistening tears.




FALSTAFF – IN HISTORY AND IN SHAKESPEARE “Do not thou, when thou art king, hang a thief!” Falstaff says on first entering to Prince Henry, later his king. And so Shakespeare introduces his hero, or anti-hero, in the play Henry IV, Part I. It is in the knight’s interests not to punish the underworld too harshly. This Falstaff is no moral crusader, no lithe and lissom, intellectually dressedup doubter who is dying of world weariness and the perfidiousness of the world. He is stout and hearty, anything but genteel, and above all not necessarily the most law-abiding of subjects. Indeed, this character should deliberately be dubious, to show how questionable the life of the young prince, later King Henry V, in fact was. Anyone who has such drinking companions is not to be completely trusted. But who was Falstaff really? Did he live? An indirect ancestor of the character created by Shakespeare is the English knight Sir John Oldcastle. He lived from the end of the 14th century to the early 15th century and was a friend of Henry V, but basically bore little resemblance to the later comedic figure. A member of the Lollard movement, he was in the group of followers of John Wyclif. They demanded

church reform, attacked the papacy and the institution of the church, rejected a number of institutions and rules and wanted to break away from Rome. When Wyclif was sentenced by the Council of Constance, his followers were deemed heretics. Oldcastle too was accused and brought to trial. King Henry V came through for him and succeeded in obtaining a reprieve for his favourite. In the meantime, Oldcastle managed to escape from the Tower of London. Later, when in reasonable safety, he tried to engineer a riot and was known as a constant firebrand who was also against the monarchy and royal house. With the corresponding results: after years on the run, he was captured in 1417, convicted and hung from the gallows; for safety’s sake, he was also burned. Sir John Oldcastle already appears as Henry V’s companion in an anonymous 1588 Elizabethan drama The Famous Victories of Henry V that Shakespeare would have been familiar with. Shakespeare had him appear in his Henry plays, but had to change the name of the knight when his descendants objected. And so Oldcastle was renamed Falstaff. Why Falstaff? Possibly because the name was reminiscent



of another previously used character: Sir John Fastolf, a coward who had actually lived. In response to Shakespeare’s Oldcastle/Falstaff, in 1599 a competing group published The First Part of the True and Honourable History of the Life of Sir John Oldcastle, the good Lord Cobham in which the knight is portrayed as a pugnacious martyr. But to get back to the Shakespeare’s character in Henry IV, who is one thing above all else: impressive. In his corpulence, his manner of speaking, his roguish demeanour. Indeed, what a contrast to political correctness, what manners riddled with faux pas. And so close to the king! This “knight of the order of the night”, whom Henry calls a “woolsack” (and much worse), knows that discretion is the better part of valour. No great hero, then, no great fighter. And yet someone who wins the sympathy of the audience. Precisely his rather unprepossessing appearance and behaviour are, or so the story tells us, so appealing to the nobility and Queen Elizabeth I that after the first Henry play, they wanted Shakespeare to write a separate Falstaff play, or more precisely a play of Sir John Falstaff in Love. For the general amusement of the court, who had grown fond of the lout. It took just two weeks for the play – The Merry Wives of Windsor – to be completed, so it is said, although it must be added that this could be part of the reason for its comparatively weak workmanship. The Merry Wives of Windsor is more a farce than bravura comedy and is very simple in some aspects. Whether the story of its rapid creation is more legend or truth is difficult to assess. However, it does seem that allusions in the text indicate that it

was first performed at court (on the occasion of new appointment of Knights of the Order of the Garter). Regardless. It must have been around 1597 when this Falstaff farce was first performed, and it is based on wellknown narratives: Italian Renaissance comedies, assorted traditional tales from Roman antiquity, but also the popular Ralph Roister Doister by Nicholas Udall written in the mid-16th century and regarded as the very first extant English comedy. However, since Falstaff had now arrived in the bourgeois world – The Merry Wives of Windsor is no royal drama – Falstaff too is no longer such a contrast to the (aristocratic) world around him. He is a bankrupt imposter, a loser who overestimates himself, often cherished by audiences, but no thorn in the flesh. The comedy draws its momentum more from the duped menfolk. In this world, the victory is won by the women, the women and the young generation. Shakespeare makes use of him again twice: in Henry IV, Part II and finally in Henry V. However, that is where fate catches up with him: he does not appear, there is merely a report of his death, which is banal and unspectacular. Mistress Quickly gives an account of it in several succinct sentences. And two acts later an officer reports on Falstaff, as if in a sad farewell song: “he was full of jokes, catcalls, tricks and antics; I have forgotten his name.” A tragic end? Yes, when it comes to being forgotten. But perhaps Falstaff would not have been especially interested in what posterity thought of him. Without question, what was important to Falstaff was the moment, and enjoying life. As we know, he did that to the full.


MUSICAL VERSIONS OF THE FALSTAFF STORY JEAN PAPAVOINE Le vieux coquet ou Les deux amis, opéra comique in three acts, Paris 1761 FRANCOIS-ANDRÉ DANICAN PHILIDOR Herne le chasseur, Paris 1773 PETER RITTER Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, comic opera in three acts, Mannheim 1794 KARL DITTERS VON DITTERSDORF Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, comic opera in three acts, Oels 1796 ANTONIO SALIERI Falstaff ossia Le tre burle, opera comica in two acts, Vienna 1799


SAVERIO MERCADANTE La Gioventù di Enrico V, opera in four acts, Milan 1834 MICHAEL BALFE Falstaff, opera buffa in 2 acts, London 1838 OTTO NICOLAI Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, comic opera in three acts, Berlin 1849 AMBROISE THOMAS Le Songe d’une nuit d’été, opéra comique in three acts, Paris, 18501 ADOLPHE ADAM Falstaff, opéra comique in one act, Paris 1856 GIUSEPPE VERDI Falstaff, commedia lirica in three acts, Milan 1893 GEORG SCHÖNFELD Falstaff, farce, Berlin 1893 GUSTAV HOLST At The Boar’s Head, musical interlude in one act, Manchester 1925 RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Sir John in Love, opera in four acts, London 1929

1 Although the title seems to refer to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the piece contains Falstaff themes


Following pages: SCENE




How the VIPs of the music world north of the Alps derided Verdi’s music! How they relished criticising him for his socalled hurdy gurdy music, at best indulgently smiling at him, ascribing his increasingly substantial and more determinant chromatic insertions merely to the influence of Wagner. By contrast, how popular and beloved Verdi was with his audiences both north and south of the Alps! The plaudits stressed his dramatic and dramatically effective talents, his melodic invention, the skill with which he brought his characters on the stage to three-dimensional life. But then at the end came Falstaff. And with this corpulent, impoverished, avaricious aristocratic wannabe womaniser the VIP critics were out of their depth, as were most who had been moved to tears by the dying Violetta or Gilda or Leonora or Aida. As a result, the success joyously celebrated on the day when Falstaff was premièred at La Scala in Milan was less for the piece than for the modest, ascetically slim old man who placed a humoristic crown on his life work of tragedies. No one had reckoned with this continuous parlando that runs through

almost the entire work. And when an aria or a love duet finally begins to take root here and there, the attendant exclamation mark that Verdi used like call signal was positively noticeable. It was unsettling right from the start. While in Otello there was no real overture, at least he initiated the tragedy with a good solid storm. But in Falstaff? It starts with a rest on beat one, followed by an accented chord on the weak second beat of the four-four tempo, only to lead blusteringly into the first ensemble a little later; marked by short unsentimental shouts and repetitive parlando sequences, the ensemble moves abruptly into the action. And the ending? A fugue. A fugue in C major which changes keys a myriad times. In which altogether 66 times everyone is forced to take it to heart that “everything in the world’s a jest.” How far Verdi had come from the man who regarded himself as a galley slave, who struggled with censorship, who went to excess and immediately characterised a failure as a fiasco. The mellowness of age? The wisdom of age? To judge by the telling humour in Falstaff, more likely the latter. When Fenton sings a love aria in Windsor Park, it



is not the young or middle-aged Verdi who stands behind him, giving emphasis to the true fervour being expressed here. In this case, the old Verdi hovers far above the young lovers. If he were Strauss, and Boito were Hofmannsthal, he would have said: “that’s how young people are.” But Verdi is Verdi and Boito is Boito. And so together with Nannetta, Fenton is brought back to events by the maternal reality of Alice. The realisation is the same: “that’s how young people are.” Verdi, the connoisseur of human nature, knows all about the emotions that move us, he understands noble and less noble feelings. He has suffered, hoped and lived through so much in his countless stage characters. At the end he knew “everything in the world’s a jest.” With this knowledge, he wrote Falstaff and went through the list for his audience: “that’s how young people are, that’s how jealous husbands are, that’s how sly rogues are, that’s how wily women are” – who are secretly more than flattered by a love letter from someone they despise, as long as they are the only recipient (the music that blossoms briefly in the wom-

en’s quartet at the end of the first act reveals this). But all in all one should not take anything really seriously. Not even the seemingly mystical, magical. How vigorously Verdi caused his witches and visions to spook through the score in Macbeth. Nannetta and her fairy retinue sing a very different tune in Falstaff. The door to Impressionism is gently opened, and as other-worldly as it may suddenly sound – with the exception of the title character everyone on the stage and in the auditorium knows: it is all just a game. Verdi was known always to side with the weak, the loser, the ostracised. In Falstaff, he takes the part of human life in all its abundance, without wanting to overemphasise individual aspects. Perhaps in Verdi it was not a case of the wisdom of age at all, but rather the love that comes with age. Despite all the humorous jags and sharp edges, he regards all the characters in Falstaff with affection. One and half years later, Puccini would invite a far more malevolent group of people to step onto the stage in his Gianni Schicchi. Falstaff is simply more conciliatory, a true creation of age.


Following pages: SCENE




THE MUSIC IN FALSTAFF What makes Falstaff – this outdated, down-at-heels knight whose best years are long behind him, this pot-bellied glutton, this narcissistic parasite – the protagonist of an opera is apparent in the confrontation with the townspeople of Windsor, who he harries and irritates to the point that they turn on him, but in the process inspires them to poetry and theatre. At the end, he comes out on top: I am the one who spurred you to wit – this is something to sing about calmly, easily, sweetly. The electrifying fortissimo chord of his first theme, which starts the opera and runs through it in variations, is an instant challenge to good order. It appears in constantly changing keys, set against the beat, accompanied by lively upward and downward leaps. The second theme shows the mocking knight in youthful grace, narrated in the aria about his days as a page (“Quand’ ero paggio”). Even his swindles are not without charm: if you have to steal in this inhospitable world, he chides his servants, then do so with elegance. His vast belly is a metaphor for his hunger for life, his greatest pleasure is carnal lust, which needs

no moral or religious justification in this opera. His lust intensified by the awareness of mortality and the fear of growing thin, he courts two Windsor beauties at the same time. Love lends wings to his fantasy, when he woos Alice in elaborately old-fashioned style, when he dangles the picture of a future Lady Falstaff (mocked by the parallel octaves in the bassoons), when he plays the role in comic falsetto of the object of his attentions In his sermon to his servants on honour, he dismisses the hollow bourgeois notion with a repeated “No”, rejecting the false heroics. The mocking trills of the brass recall Iago’s “Credo“, although Falstaff’s maxim is a simple march: „Va, vecchio John”, an assertion of life in agreement with himself, where the instrumental grace notes illustrate the enjoyment of pleasure. Even when Falstaff – half dead, soaked and humiliated – is complaining about the miserable and worsening state of the world, his maxim returns, although this time as a funeral march. The monologue begins with a curse (“Mondo ladro!“) and the descending motif sounded three times by the low



brass recalls the curse motifs of earlier operas – but the broad gesture is diminished steadily, reduced to piano and pianissimo. At the end, Falstaff is subdued, depressed about his own advanced age. But the wine revives him. His recovery is audible in the orchestra, first in the flutes, then with more and more instruments ending with the trombones joining in a trill covering a harmonic range, until the musical allegory of his inventiveness seems to shake the whole world. And then the odious “Reverenza!” affectation of Mrs Quickly brings a return to reality. The way that the citizens join to hunt Falstaff, first in Ford’s house, then at midnight in the park, where they drive him like a wild animal, evokes a pogrom mood, shattering an image of the lovable bourgeoisie which is no longer compatible with the collective aggression and furtive delight in his misery. The young lovers are the only exception. The rare moments in which Nannetta and Fenton are alone are like cross-cuts in a film, emphasised by the changes in key, tempo and rhythm in which the soft legato of the strings and woodwind and the lyricism of the singers’ voices as they alternate form a single melodic arc. But these moments are a brief reminiscence of the traditional love duet. Since it is love itself that is the subject of the song, the fair game that is constantly renewed, the recurring quote from Boccaccio’s Decameron in the song (“Bocca baciata”) fits neatly in, increasing the sense of timelessness. Dr Caius and Ford, dissatisfied, nervous, insecure figures, clutch at their possessions, which they see as their honour, their roof, their marital bed, which need protection from foreign

rapacity. Disguised as the generous Fontana, Ford seems to find liberation as he sings of his own wife, melting into emotion as, spurred by Falstaff’s infatuation, the two rivals sing together “L’amor, l’amor.” The way that Alice quotes the flowery close to Falstaff’s letter, dolcissimo and in lyrical suspended ninths, betrays an unadmitted desire, despite her mocking final trill and subsequent laughter. At the end of the hunt, the general reconciliation is expressed in a final fugue, which binds the ensemble in its laws. Falstaff states the subject, and the others delay their celebration to reflect on what has happened. In the penultimate passage Falstaff is again the one to “discover” the inversion of the subject before the fugal parts are drowned in laughter and end on a seventh chord. After the sheepish recognition “Tutti gabbati” (“We are all tricked”) the fugue ends homophonically in general laughter. This concert-style close in which the singers step out of their roles emphasises the play within a play, the theatre staged by the players themselves, and is a hommage to Mozart, whose Don Giovanni also ends in a fugal exposition. Another allusion to that opera is the minuet from the masked figures in the third act, and the nocturnal masked scenes recall the close of the Marriage of Figaro, which is the model for Falstaff as an ensemble opera. Through the steady parlando of the constantly alternating voices which follows the nuances of the language and the chamber music treatment of the orchestra, Verdi finally departs from the traditional Italian opera. The light orchestration is a rejection of the contemporary trend towards grandeur



and augmented orchestras, which he occasionally commented on sarcastically. The innovative impact of the score is clear in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, Wolf-Ferrari’s I quattro rustegghi, Busoni’s Die Brautwahl and Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. Strauss was not alone in his effusive praise of Falstaff – Ferruccio Busoni also wrote that Falstaff had resulted in “such a revolution of the spirit and emotions” in him that he “quite rightly dated an entire epoch of his artistic life” from that time. Falstaff was Verdi’s farewell to the stage, and he often looks back with detached irony at his own works: Un ballo in maschera, when Alice echoes Oscar’s tone; the servants’ “Immenso Falstaff” recalls the priestesses’ “Immenso Fthà” from Aida – the descending fifth of the chorus of priests is quoted, and there is even an allusion to the court scene in the call of the citizens disguised as monks, which they sing three times, chromatically ascending – “Risponde!“ at which point Falstaff fortunately recognises Bardolfo by his red nose. Ford’s monologue “È sogno” is reminiscent of King Phillip’s aria from Don Carlos. References to Otello are numerous, and not only in the jealousy and kiss motif. The appearance of the horned Falstaff on the first stroke of midnight opens like Otello’s last entrance with a “fearful tone“, a “note imprévue”, and there is a distorted form of Otello’s motif. A central theme of Verdi, the powerlessness of fathers and the failure of authority, returns in a comic variation. Besides these reminiscences, traditional Italian opera as a genre is reflected on and dismissed. First, there are the

parodical quotes of individual forms and opera standards, for example the “revenge aria” in Falstaff’s monologue, when he considers the emptiness of the concept of honour; the “oath scene” with its ceremonious trombone chords in Dr Caius’ comic oath which closes with the servants’ “Amen!”, a false canon a tone apart, with mocking dissonances on the stressed beat. The pious women’s chorus also appears, with the hypocritical “Domine, fallo casto”, which quotes the melody of the “Hostias” from the Requiem, parodied by Falstaff in his saucy addition “Salvagli l’addomine” (“Preserve his belly!”). At the same time, Falstaff is a tribute to the opera of the past. Fenton’s “Dal labro il canto” brings back the aria, like a precious memory. However, the underlying sonnet is no longer personal, but a song to love as a blissful state of the world, a mysterious interval formed by Fenton’s voice with the accompanying English horn and Nannetta’s voice, heard from the distance. This is a contrast to the presentation of love in all other Verdi works, where love is a passion which achieved its visionary realisation only with the approach of death. Even so, the state of perfect harmony lasts for only a brief moment in the high b’’ above the harp in Db major, not previously heard in the score – and then the noisy approach of the disguised citizenry abruptly breaks off the duet, a disillusionment which emphases the reference in the aria. The execution ritual of the finale is clearly a play on the fate of opera in public cultural life, showing how far autobiographic material has flowed into this last opera.




“I PRAY YOU, FATHER, BEING WEAK, SEEM SO” “ O, sir, you are old. Nature in you stands on the very verge Of her confine: you should be ruled and led By some discretion, that discerns your state Better than you yourself.”

Regan, King Lear Act 2

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE Sir John Falstaff – as imagined by Shakespeare, and also by Giuseppe Verdi – is a paradoxical figure combining despicable roguery and genuine pathos. In Verdi’s opera we see him bested by the burghers of Windsor but still able to chuckle at his defeat, but in the three plays in which Shakespeare featured him (and his offstage death in a fourth) the paradox is greatly heightened. Falstaff is cruel, cowardly, dishonest, callous and selfish. Yet at the same time Falstaff is fun, Falstaff is loving, Falstaff is so very, very alive. Jack Falstaff brightens up any room into which he heaves his bulk. As he

himself warns Prince Hal in Henry IV Part I, “Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.” As an audience we do not want Falstaff to succeed in his scams and yet we are sorry for him when he fails. We are also sorry when we see an old man who should have acquired the dignity of age thrown into the Thames in a laundry basket, and (in Henry IV Part II) when we see that old man publically spurned by the young Prince whom he looked upon as a son. There is comedy and tragedy in equal measure in the figure of Old Sir John and both are heightened by the fact that we are seeing him at the end of his life.



The Old Man as a staple of comedy goes back at least to Greek comedy of the New Period. Menander (c. 342/41 – c. 290 BC) often used the angry old man to temporarily thwart his lovers’ plans. This character, later adopted into Roman Comedies of Plautus and Terence as Senex Iratus, might be the father of the hero – determined that his son should forgo love and do his bidding – or he might be the son’s rival for the hand of the heroine, or indeed he might be both. In the European Middle Ages the comic Old Man reappears as the Vecchio of Commedia dell’arte. In sixteenth-century Venice he recurs as venal comic villain Il Magnifico and in seventeenth century Italy he was best known as Pantalone. Physically these old men could be depicted as wizened or fat or even hunchbacked, bent over the weight of money they carry around. Because of his skinny legs, Pantalone was always portrayed wearing trousers rather than knee-breeches (hence the origin of the word “pantaloons”). But the physical failings of age, particularly the ungainly walk of decrepitude, were part of how we laughed at the Senex Iratus in all his incarnations. When Shakespeare wrote his two plays about King Henry IV (c1596-7) he drew only partially on Senex Iratus for what is perhaps the greatest incarnation of the comic Old Man, Sir John Falstaff. The character of Falstaff also drew directly on the English morality plays in which the venal figure of Vice conspired to make us laugh with him, thereby making us all complicit in his misdeeds. In fact it could be argued that the classic Senex Iratus in Henry IV Parts I & II is King Henry himself, the angry

father who tries and fails to get his son (Prince Hal) to do his bidding and who is so frail when he walks that he has to be helped into the Jerusalem Chapel to die. Shakespeare plays this irate old man seriously and reserves the laughs for the actual villain of the piece, Falstaff. Despite all the accusations that are levelled at Falstaff – thief, liar, glutton, coward, boaster and corrupter of youth – he remains an engaging character, hilarious in the easy manner in which he gets away with so much, but heart-breakingly sad when he is spurned by the young man he loves: “I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers,” says Prince Hal, as he pauses to snub Falstaff after he has been crowned King. “How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!” “The king hath killed his heart” claims Mistress Quickly as Falstaff dies soon after, offstage, in the sequel play, Henry V. Shakespeare’s masterstroke was to infuse his comic villain with a compassion that is the legacy of Renaissance Humanism, or to put it more simply, he recreated Senex Iratus as a character that we could laugh at and still feel sorry for. So popular a figure was Falstaff, according to Nicholas Rowe, in his Life of Shakespeare (1709), that Queen Elizabeth “commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to show him in love.” Shakespeare also developed aspects of Falstaff in Sir Toby Belch (Twelfth Night, c.1600) Polonius (Hamlet, c.1602) and Gloucester (King Lear, c.1606). All of these characters are deeply flawed. Sir Toby abuses his niece’s hospitality, Polonius is a loquacious and interfering old intriguer, and Gloucester a foolish



old man who cannot see that one of his sons is deceiving him about the other, but in all cases they are cruelly punished. Sir Toby is beaten badly by Sebastian, Polonius is stabbed while spying on Hamlet, and Gloucester is blinded by King Lear’s vengeful daughter Regan and turned out to die in the storm. Shakespeare wasn’t unique of his time in finding the old man equally comic and sad. The adventures of Cervantes’ delusional Don Quixote were published in 1605 and the figure of the comic, venal old man was popular in seventeenth century drama. In Molière’s L’école des femmes (1662) Arnolphe is a foolish old man (of 42) who is unable to stop the 17-year-old he wishes to marry falling in love with his son. Molière used a similar scenario in L’avare (1668) wherein Harpagon, a 60-year-old miser wants to marry a young woman who is already in love with his son and in Les Fourberies de Scapin (1671) where the character of Géronte is unable to prevent his children marrying whom they choose. In opera these Falstaffian characters are often basso-buffos such as Rossini’s Dr Bartolo outwitted by the lovers Almaviva and Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia (1816) or Donizetti’s Don Pasquale (1843) where, once again, an elderly figure is prevented from marrying the woman he wants – and generally humiliated. In comedies love and success are ultimately always the preserve of youth. The trope continued into the twentieth century with Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier (1911) in which Baron Ochs is very taken with young Sophie and with her family’s wealth, but is denied her by the very young man he sends to present his rose.

A variation in the narrative is found in Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona (1733) where Umberto, a grumpy elderly bachelor, is tricked into marrying his maidservant, Serpina rather than pay her dowry. And in Rossini’s La cenerentola (1816) where Don Magnifico is a foolish venal old man who sees his chance of a comfortable old age resting on marrying off one of his two daughters to Prince Ramiro. When the prince chooses Magni­ fico’s mistreated stepdaughter instead, he has to humiliate himself to beg her forgiveness. Fortunately she is more forgiving than he deserves. If these are Senex Iratus characters, they are shot through with all the pathos that Shakespeare summons up in us for Falstaff. We do not want these old men to succeed, but at the same time we feel sorry for them when they fail. In the twentieth century film has taken on the pathos of the foolish old man. One of the earliest examples was Der blaue Engel (1930) based on Heinrich Mann’s novel, Professor Unrat, which depicted an esteemed old educator falling for a show girl (Marlene Dietrich) and being so desperate to stay with her that he ends up literally playing the clown in her cabaret show. While the audience in the professor’s home town is laughing at him, we also feel his pain. In Hollywood, recent films like Space Cowboys (2000), About Schmidt (2002), True Grit (2010) and Last Vegas (2013) have depicted old men who try to remain young as figures of both ridicule and pathos. The comedy of a 65-year-old Jack Nicholson (Schmidt) being chased out of a hot tub by a predatory and naked Kathy Bates is funny, but also very



sad because the ageing Schmidt is terrified of age-appropriate women. So why is it that the folly of these old men as they near the end of their lives so amusing and yet simultaneously so sad? We may be fond of their delusions (as in Don Quixote), we may baulk at their self-delusion (as with Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier) but any large gulf between aspiration and achievement is always comic. But at the same time sadness is inescapable with these old men as they blunder or escape by the skin of their teeth because we know things are only going to get worse for them. When a toddler falls down and cries we smile because it is sweet that the baby doesn’t realise that every day it is going to fall down less and less often, until one day it will reach peak physical perfection. When an old man falls down, how­

ever, he may look momentarily funny but this is a situation that is only going to get worse. Falstaff may escape from the Thames eventually – and his emergence like a fat drowned rat draped in soggy laundry is funny – but it’s also very sad because next time he may not have the strength to heave himself out of the river. The next time he may tumble over like a toddler and be unable to get up again. As the Duke of Gloucester says in King Lear, “We have seen the best of our times.” It is all downhill from now on. When Sir John Falstaff agrees with Justice Shallow, “We have heard the chimes of midnight, Master Shallow,” in Henry IV Part II, he is admitting it is unlikely they will ever go on such escapades again. Their days of lying in Saint George’s field with Jane Nightwork are over.


Following pages: SCENE


FALSTAFF SEASON 2023/24 PREMIÈRE OF THE PRODUCTION 19 OCTOBER 2003 Publisher WIENER STAATSOPER GMBH, Opernring 2, 1010 Wien Director DR. BOGDAN ROŠČIĆ Music Director PHILIPPE JORDAN Administrative Director DR. PETRA BOHUSLAV General Editors SERGIO MORABITO, ANDREAS LÁNG, OLIVER LÁNG Design & concept EXEX Layout & typesetting MIWA MEUSBURGER Image concept MARTIN CONRADS, BERLIN (Cover) All performance fotos by MICHAEL PÖHN Printed by PRINT ALLIANCE HAV PRODUKTIONS GMBH, BAD VÖSLAU TEXT REFERENCES All texts were taken from the Falstaff-programme of the Vienna State Opera (2021/22). ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS Andrew Smith. IMAGE REFERENCES: Les Trois Garçons, London, Getty Images. Reproduction only with approval of Wiener Staatsoper GmbH / Dramaturgy. Holders of rights who were unavailable regarding retrospect compensation are requested to make contact. This production is sponsored by

CULTURE MOVES YOU. YOU CAN RELY ON OMV. TODAY AND TOMORROW. OMV and the Vienna State Opera have a long-standing partnership. Our commitment goes far beyond the stage. We actively support young people and projects for new talent and provide access to art and culture for young people. Together we are shaping an inspiring future. Find all partnerships at:


Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.