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Enchantingly notorious

By Kerianne M. Tupac

The University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre & Dance, University Opera Theatre presents Verdi’s effervescent comic masterpiece Falstaff. This enchanting and amusing opera based on Shakespeare’s notorious protagonist runs for four performances; November 10 at 7:30 PM, November 11 & 12 at 8 PM and November 13 at 2 PM.

Filled with both the physical comedy and elegant language of Shakespeare, Verdi’s tribute to “Fatbelly” is a mercurial, quicksilver musical masterpiece from a composer at the height of his genius. (Photo left: Giuseppe Verdi, from Its underlying theme is that “…in life, we are all fools and he who laughs last, laughs best.” Joshua Major directs with the University Symphony Orchestra under the baton of U-M doctoral student Oriol Sans.

“It is not often that a man’s strength is so immense that he can remain an athlete after bartering half of it to old age for experience; but the thing happens occasionally, and need not so greatly surprise us in Verdi’s case,” said George Bernard Shaw. Best known for his dramatic operas such as La Traviata and Otello, Verdi attempted only two comic operas in his long career — his first and his last.

According to legend, Falstaff was prompted in part by Rossini’s assertion that “Verdi was incapable of writing a comic opera.” At the age of 78 after almost fifteen years of retirement, Verdi teamed with Arrigo Boito, composer of the opera Mefistofele and the noted librettist with whom he had collaborated on Otello. Working in secret for two years, the pair premiered Falstaff in 1893 to immediate and resounding acclaim.

Boito’s libretto is one of the most significant adaptations of Shakespeare in opera. Condensing The Merry Wives of Windsor and incorporating aspects of Henry IV, Parts I and II, the opera captures both the delicacy and wit of Shakespearean comedy as well as the prodigious personality of Shakespeare’s rotund antihero. In combination with Verdi’s music, the show is one of the most integrated in opera repertoire. “It’s mostly a conversation,” states Professor of Music Martin Katz, who worked with Major on the SMTD production in 2000. “There are few arias that can be pulled from the context of the opera. This poses a challenge for the performers, as each note and gesture is dictated by the words, which is stylistically different from most operas. It’s part of Verdi’s genius that he alone created this unique style. Falstaff sounds completely different from his other works. He fond a whole new musical language for comedy.”

Falstaff follows the antics of Sir John Falstaff, a portly, old cad who, being short of drinking money, decides to write love letters to two wealthy, married women. Discovering his trickery, the two women decide to teach Falstaff a lesson. They lure him into several humiliating situations, even dumping him into the River Thames. At the end Falstaff concedes his defeat, but admits that “Were it not for the salt I give your lives when you laugh at me, your life would be really boring.” Director Major has focused on this aspect of the comedy. “The opera leaves us with an important lesson in learning to laugh at oneself.” No Shakespeare, nor use of Shakespeare, would be complete without a subplot of forbidden lovers, embodied in the characters of Nanetta Ford and Fenton. Aged Verdi celebrates young love with some of the most glorious melodies ever written.

Joining Major and Sans on the artistic team is scenic designer, Professor of Theatre & Drama Vincent Mountain, who also designed the 2000 production of Falstaff. Guest Jeff Bauer, whose scenic designs were seen last year in The Elixir of Love designs costumes. Andrew Lott, a junior in the Department of Theatre & Drama, makes his mainstage debut designing lighting. Erin Kennedy Lunsford designs wigs. Assistant Conductor Elliott Moore will conduct the performance on Sunday, November 13.

Following the performance on Friday, November 11, 2011, will be post-performance discussions moderated by Major and featuring members of the cast. Curtain Call Fridays offer an opportunity for audience members to talk with artists about each production.

Sponsored by the Friends of Opera, the discussion is free and open to all.

Ticket prices for Falstaff are $26 and $20 with students only $10 with ID. Tickets are available in person at the League Ticket

Office, located within the Michigan League. The Ticket Office is open from 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted. Tickets may also be ordered online at

The Power Center, located at 121 N. Fletcher Street, is wheelchair accessible and equipped with an infrared listening system for hearing enhancement.