Verdi: Falstaff

The Music of Falstaff

Falstaff: 100th Production

Falstaff is musically perfect.
Dominic McHugh, MusicOMHP

[Falstaff is] the most action-packed thing I've ever come across. It never stops ... How Verdi invests the music with such energy, bubbling continuously before breaking into the crazy bits, is real genius ... It's a dream to direct.
Canadian director Robert Carsen on Falstaff (Interview with The Guardian)

A miraculous score and a dizzying wealth of melody . . . discover the amazing music and unstoppable drama of Falstaff in these selections from Youtube.


The Music of Falstaff

POV's Best of Youtube

San Diego OperaTalk! with Nick Reveles

San Diego Opera's Nick Reveles hosts this engaging introduction to Falstaff, Verdi's magnificent final opera.



Act 2 Finale

The old rascal Falstaff tries to seduce the married Alice Ford. She knows exactly what he's up to, but leads him on as part of the plot to teach him a lesson. He recalls his glory days with the delicious aria Quando ero paggio del duca di Norfolk

When I was a page to the Duke of Norfolk,
I was slim, slim, slim.
I was handsome, graceful, and thin.
Those were the days of my flowering Spring

They are interrupted with the news that Alice's husband is on his way. Ford roars in and turns the place upside down in a search for Alice's lover. Falstaff hides behind a screen and then stuffs himself inside a laundry hamper. Meanwhile, Ford's daughter Nannetta and her lover Fenton slip behind the screen for a little smooching. They are discovered by Ford, who orders Fenton to leave. In the ensuing uproar, the hamper with Falstaff inside is dumped out the window and into the river.

With Paul Plishka as Falstaff, Mirella Freni as Alice, Bruno Pola as Ford, Marilyn Horne as Mistress Quickly, Barbara Bonney as Nannetta, Frank Lopardo as Fenton, and Susan Graham as Meg.
From a 1992 Metropolitan Opera production, conducted by James Levine.



"Quand'ero Paggio" sung by the original Falstaff

Here is a 1907 recording of French baritone Victor Maurel, who created the role of Falstaff, singing When I was a page to the Duke of Norfolk. He sings this very short aria first in Italian, then, after some applause, repeats it in Italian and finally in French. Maurel was also the first Iago, in Verdi's Otello.

Recorded for Fonotipia in 1907 (Misprinted on label as 1904). This is the Columbia's IRCC release from 1932



Act 3: Nannetta's Aria, "Sul fil d'un soffio etesio"

Falstaff has been lured to the "haunted" Windsor Park at midnight for a rendezvous with Alice Ford. He is to dress as Herne the Hunter, a ghost that wears antlers on his head and haunts Windsor Forest.

It's all all part of an elaborate hoax in which the townsfolk of Windsor plan to disguise themselves as goblins, witches, and fairies and haunt Windsor Forest to teach the old rogue a lesson. Nannetta, dressed as the Queen of the Fairies, sings this lovely aria.

On the breath of a fragrant breeze fly nimble spirits;
through the branches appears the blue gleam of the rising moon.
Dance! And let your soft steps fit the soft music,
joining magic dancing to the song

Shakespeare described Herne the Hunter in The Merry Wives of Windsor:

Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv'd, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.

From a 1981 La Scala telecast conducted by Lorin Maazel. With Juan Pons as Falstaff and Patricia Wise as Nannetta



Final fugue: Tutto nel mondo è burla

Verdi ended Falstaff with, of all things, a fugue! Falstaff starts it off, and in turn, all the characters join in.

Tutto nel mondo è burla. L'uom è nato burlone,
nel suo cervello ciurla sempre la sua ragione.
Tutti gabbati! Irride l'un l'altro ogni mortal,
ma ride ben chi ride la risata final.

Everything in the world is a joke, and man is born a clown.
Within his addled head his brains are in a churn.
We all are fools! And every man laughs at the others' folly.
But he laughs best who has the last laugh.

F. Paul Driscoll, Editor in Chief of Opera News, calls Falstaff's final fugue the most joyous piece of music that Verdi ever wrote.

With Gabriel Bacquier as Falstaff, Karan Armstrong as Alice Ford, Richard Stilwell as Ford, Max-René Cosotti as Fenton, John Lanigan as Doctor Caius, Ulrik Cold as Pistola, Peter Maus as Bardolfo, Jutta-Renate Ihloff as Nannetta, Sylvia Lindenstrand as Meg Page, Marta Szirmay as Mistress Quickly, Leopold Clam as the innkeeper, and Stefan Hanke as Robin.
From a 1979 film directed by Götz Friedrich, with Sir Georg Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic.


Maureen Woodall



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