Falstaff Review - Lyric Opera of Chicago

Falstaff over time

The Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Falstaff is a delightful experience.  It is humorous and charming with fantastic costuming, beautiful voices and perfect sets.  Lyric asks, “What happens when an old knight who still fancies himself a ladies' man sends identical love letters to two married women?” and answers with the story of an aging lecherous, debaucherous knight and two ladies he is wooing.  Along the way, we meet:  

Comparing the letters

Sir John Falstaff, a fat knight     baritone (Andrew Shore)
Ford, a wealthy man     baritone (Boaz Daniel)    
Alice Ford, his wife     soprano (Veronica Villarroel)    
Nannetta, their daughter, soprano (Stacey Tappan)
Meg Page   mezzo-soprano  (Elizabeth De Shong)
Mistress Quickly   mezzo-soprano  (Meridith Arwady)
Fenton, one of Nannetta’s suitors   tenor (Bryan Griffin)    
Dr Caius   tenor   (David Cangelosi)
Bardolfo, a follower of Falstaff   tenor  (Rodell Rosel)
Pistola, a follower of Falstaff     bass  (Andrew Funk)
Mine Host of the Garter Inn     Silent     
Robin, Falstaff's page     Silent

Feigning interest in Falstaff

Falstaff was Giuseppe Verdi’s third venture into a Shakespeare theme.  This opera came into being despite the obstacles of Verdi’s age -76 when he began this work, a previous disaster with an attempt at a comedic opera (Un giorno di regno), and the success of “Otello” which Verdi regarded as an unbeatable “final curtain”.

Nanetta and Fenton

Fortunately, Verdi listened to the written words of his librettist, Arrigo Boito, that “There is only one way of ending your career more effectively than with “Othello” and that is to conclude victoriously with “Falstaff”.” And so audiences have been given this opera to enjoy.  The opera is in three acts in Italian (at Lyric with projected English titles) that was first performed at La Scala, Milan February 9, 1893 and met with great success. Its first performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago was October 10, 1958.  Arrigo Boito’s libretto was based on “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “King Henry IV” by William Shakespeare.

Searching for Falstaff

The current production was totally captivating.  The orchestration has an unusually prominent role in supporting the action, the acting was wonderful, and the costuming and the sets perfect for the story.   Andrew Shore didn’t play Falstaff; he was Falstaff, making this rogue and drunk convincing and sympathetic. All of the acting was excellent and added to the humor. The quality of all the voices was superb. Sir Andrew Davis who says of Falstaff, “It is my favorite Verdi opera”, was the conductor.  Toscanini described it as “Quicksilver from start to finish”.  The performances of Andrew Shore, (Falstaff), Veronica Villarroel (Alice Ford), and Stacey Tappan (Nannetta) were especially noteworthy.

Bardolfo hears a kiss

The opera is great fun with some of Verdi’s most inspired writing at the end when Falstaff is pleased to find himself not the only dupe and proclaims in a fugue that the whole world is a joke and that “he who laughs last, laughs best”.   It is a perfect, satisfying ending to a charming opera and to the career of one of the world’s greatest composers.  Do get tickets at:

He who laughs last, laughs best

Lyric Opera of Chicago
Phone: 312.332.2244

Photos: Dan Rest/Robert Kusel

The Abbott Laboratories Production, revival generously made possible by Brenda and Earl Shapiro, Liz Stiffel, and UBS

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