‘Falstaff’ a rare operatic comedy

Telegraph correspondentDecember 13, 2013 

Ambrogio Maestri in the title role of Verdi’s “Falstaff.”

KEN_HOWARD — Metropolitan Opera

William Shakespeare may have created a few characters more famous than Sir John Falstaff, but none are more endearing than the roguish old reprobate.

To the astonishment of the music world, at the age of 80 the great operatic composer Giuseppe Verdi -- taking a suggestion from the librettist Arrigo Boito -- seized upon the idea of composing a comic opera about Shakespeare’s debauched blow-hard Falstaff.

The project proved, of course, to be a rousing success -- and has subsequently grown in popularity.

Verdi, of course, was no stranger to the work of Shakespeare, but “Falstaff” -- a comic character who appears in the history play “Henry IV” and in the comedy “The Merry Wives of Windsor” -- created a sensation.

Much the same can be said of the production of “Falstaff” now at the Metropolitan Opera, and being broadcast Saturday at the Douglass Theatre as part of the Met’s Live in HD season. Conducted by the celebrated James Levine, still recovering from serious illness, this is the first “new” Met production of “Falstaff” in almost 50 years, a fact that will endear it to hard-core opera fans.

The production actually had its premiere last year in London. Unlike many operas, which often leave the stage running with tears and blood, Verdi’s “Falstaff” is a sheer hoot. On top of everything, it ends happily.

Italian baritone Ambrogio Maestri sings the lead and is said to “own the role,” having performed it more than 200 times. Transported to the 1950s, the comic plot involves Falstaff’s scheme to seduce some of the “merry wives” whom we met in Shakespeare. The old degenerate’s plans go awry, however. Jealousy ensues, other romances intrude and his plans unravel in hilarious fashion.

The broadcast runs just more than three hours, but those who neglect to fortify themselves beforehand will be relieved to know that the Central Georgia Opera Guild will provide snacks and champagne, while Rich Fallis will provide the pre-show remarks.

“Falstaff”

When: 12:55 p.m. Dec. 14

Where: Douglass Theatre, 355 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Cost: $24 adults, $20 seniors

Information: www.metopera.org/hdlive; 478-744-2000

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