Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Arrigo Boito Graphic Design by CAP Designs

November 16 - 18 at 8 PM
November 19 at 2 PM
Power Center

background | press release | synopsis | photographs | designs

Background Information
Giuseppe Verdi
The great Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi was born in La Roncole on October 10, 1813. Displaying considerable talent from a very early age, he was assistant organist at the small local church by the time he was ten. In 1836, Verdi completed his first opera, "Rocester." The music from this work only survives in the composer's next opera, "Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio," which opened at La Scala in 1839. His next opera, "Un Giorno di Regno" ("King for a Day"), was a complete failure and resolved Verdi to cancel his La Scala contract and give up music altogether. The manager of La Scala, Bartolomeo Merelli, persuaded him to persevere and write his next opera - "Nabucodonosor" ("Nebuchadnezzar"). This opera came to be called "Nabucco" and premiered in 1842 to great acclaim. His next two operas - "I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata" and "Ernani" - secured Verdi's reputation as a major figure in the music world. Between 1844 and 1850 Verdi composed at a tremendous rate. "Luisa Miller" in 1849 and "Stiffelio" in 1850 demonstrate Verdi's maturing style and more flowing musical line. During his "middle period" Verdi wrote three of his most successful operas: "Rigoletto," "Il Trovatore," and "La Traviata." In 1859, Verdi wrote "Un Ballo in Maschera" which, like several of his other works, aroused the ire of the censors who objected to the representation of a rebellion against a monarch. From 1861-65, after Napoleon III drove the Austrians from northern Italy, Verdi was elected to represent Busseto in the newly-formed Italian parliament. During this time he wrote "La Forza del Destino" and "Don Carlos."

In 1870, he accepted a commission to write an opera for the opening of the Suez Canal. The opera, "Aida," premiered in both Cairo and Milan in 1871. Following the success of "Aida," Verdi retired to his estate Sant'Agnata. In 1875, the death of the great Italian novelist and patriot Alessandro Manzoni moved Verdi to complete a requiem mass that had originally been intended to honor his noted compatriot, Gioacchino Rossini. Verdi was drawn back to the opera by his publisher, Giulio Ricordi, who introduced him to the celebrated Arrigo Boito. They both worked together on "Otello," which premiered at La Scala in 1886. Verdi's last opera was the only other comedy he had written since the disastrous "Un Giorno di Regno" - "Falstaff," considered Verdi's humanistic swan song. In January, 1901, Verdi became ill while staying in Milan. City officials spread the streets around his hotel with straw so that the sound of the horses' hooves would not disturb him. He passed away on January 27, 1901, and was buried at the Casa di Riposo, a retirement home for elderly musicians that was established by Verdi himself.
- from the New York City Opera

The Creation of Falstaff
"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 of "Falstaff." By the 1890s, even after some 15 years of retirement from opera, Verdi's reputation as the preeminent composer of Italian opera was as secure as it had been for decades. After the premiere of "Otello" in 1887, the world assumed it had heard its last from Verdi. But in 1893, he astonished everyone by ending his operatic career with a return to a genre that had previously eluded him: the comic opera. "Falstaff" was Verdi's first comic opera since "Un Giorno di Regno" - and according to legend was prompted in part by Rossini's assertion that "Verdi was incapable of writing a comic opera." After two years of working in secret on an opera they affectionately toasted as "Fatbelly," Verdi and Boito unveiled "Falstaff" and resoundingly put to rest any doubt of Verdi's comic ability. Falstaff had long been one of Verdi's favorite characters and Boito's libretto is one of the most brilliant adaptations of Shakespeare in opera. Condensing "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and incorporating aspects of "Henry IV," Verdi's opera captures through music of surpassing virtuosity both the delicacy and wit of Shakespearean comedy as well as the prodigious personality of Shakespeare's rotund antihero.

Press Release
The University of Michigan's Opera Theatre presents Verdi's effervescent comic masterpiece "Falstaff." This enchanting and amusing opera based on Shakespeare's notorious protagonist will run for four performances from November 16 through November 19 at the Power Center for the Performing Arts in Ann Arbor. 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 his height of genius. Its underlying theme is that "in life, we are all fools and he who laughs last, laughs best." The opera, which features the experienced team of Martin Katz, conductor, and Joshua Major, director, will be sung in Italian with English supertitles and set in 15th century England.

"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 a 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 conductor Martin Katz, "there are few arias or passages that can be pulled from the context of the opera. This has posed 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 found a whole new musical language for comedy."

"Falstaff" follows the antics of Sir John Falstaff, a portly, old cad who, being short of drinking funds, 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 Joshua 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 Katz on the artistic team is scenic designer Vincent Mountain, whose designs were seen in "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "Blood Wedding." Guest costume designer Janice Benning comes from her base in Colorado where she is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Designing lighting is Heather Chockley, an undergraduate student in the Department of Theatre and Drama whose lighting was seen last spring in "S'lichot." The University Symphony Orchestra will play for all performances.

ACT I - Sir John Falstaff, a rogue knight, drinks enormous quantities of ale at the Garter Inn with his two cronies, Bardolph and Pistol. Dr. Caius accuses them of picking his pocket the night before, but they ridicule him. Falstaff, short of funds, plots to woo the wives of two wealthy men. He writes identical letters to the two women, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford. Feigning shock at such debauchery, Bardolph and Pistol refuse to deliver the letters. Falstaff throws them out of the inn and orders his page to deliver the letters. Meg Page and Alice Ford compare their love letters from Falstaff and discover they are identical. Assisted by their neighbor, Dame Quickly, and Mistress Ford's daughter Nannetta, they plan to teach Falstaff a lesson. Meanwhile, Bardolph and Pistol disclose Falstaff's treachery to Mr. Ford. Joined by Dr. Caius and Fenton, Nannetta's sweetheart, they plot revenge against the rogue knight.

ACT II - At the Garter Inn, Dame Quickly tells Falstaff that Mistress Ford would like to see him that afternoon. Bardolph and Pistol, once again in Falstaff's favor, introduce a disguised Ford to the Knight as "Signor Fontana," who offers to pay Falstaff to help him win Mistress Ford's favors. Falstaff accepts and the two men leave together. Back at the Ford house, Dame Quickly tells the ladies that their revenge is under way. When Nannetta complains that her father has promised Dr. Caius her hand in marriage, the women promise to help her marry her beloved Fenton. Falstaff arrives and clumsily woos Alice. He must hide behind a screen, however, when Mr. Ford, Caius, Bardolph, and Pistol arrive to search the house for the Knight. When the men leave the room, the ladies hide Falstaff in a laundry basket full of dirty clothes. Ford returns and is incensed to hear the sound of smooching from behind the screen, but it turns out to be Nannetta and Fenton. Alice orders the servants to empty the laundry basket into the river Thames, and all assemble to laugh at the soaked and humiliated Falstaff.

ACT III - Falstaff returns to the Garter Inn to drown his sorrows. But Dame Quickly convinces him that Mistress Ford indeed desires his company. The plan for Falstaff to meet Alice in the park at midnight is overheard by Ford and Dr. Caius, who arrange for Falstaff's come-uppance and Caius' marriage to Nannetta that very night. Falstaff and Alice rendezvous in the park. The knight begins his clumsy wooing, but spooky sounds in the dark interrupt him. Alice flees and Falstaff falls to the ground in terror as the entire company, disguised as supernatural creatures, tortures Falstaff until he promises to change his evil ways. Ford, revealing his true identity, blesses the union of two disguised couples, one of which he believes to be his daughter and Dr. Caius. However, unmasking reveals that Ford has actually married his daughter to her beloved Fenton, and Caius to Bardolph! Ford finally blesses the union of Nannetta and Fenton. Everyone agrees that "all the world's a jest."
- synopsis courtesy New York City Opera

Production Photographs
Betsy Williams as Mistress Quickly
and Matthew Carroll as Falstaff
Julia Broxholm as Mistress Alice
and Tyler T. Oliphant as Falstaff

Guilherme N. Rogano as Ford Gary Moss as Ford

The men plot against Falstaff The women plot against Falstaff

Production Designs
Scenic Designs by

Garter Inn Interior Garter Inn Exterior

Garden Scene Garden Scene

Ford's House Interior Scroll Backdrop