“Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi, Hungarian State Opera
Verdi and comedy. Puccini and comedy. Do those words even belong in the same sentence? Puccini is indelibly associated with tragedy and pain, Verdi to a lesser extent but these great Italian masters of the opera world have occasionally delved into the polar opposite of the dark side and created lighter frothier operas
For me, however, I only have to think of “Gianni Schicchi” and remember why I always have a preference for the wrenching tragic notes of “Tosca” or “‘Manon Lescaut”’ or the majestic warlike tragedy of “Aida”. There is always the sense of being the only person in the auditorium not laughing during a comic opera. Even plays have to be dark; give me “Macbeth”, “Hamlet”, “King Lear” and “Othello”, and forgot those wandering, vague comedies set in the woods with their ridiculous plots and dreamy players.
But Verdi with his final exit from opera and also the world itself wanted to prove he could succeed in full comedy mode. Working closely with his librettist, Arrigo Boito, Verdi plucked the character of Sir John Falstaff from the pages of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” with scenes from “Henry IV”, parts 1 and 2 and set it alight on the opera stage.
Shakespeare is also a big feature of the Hungarian State Opera and Hungarian National Ballet this year after the epic premiere of “Otello” in September, the current “Romeo and Juliet” ballet and the grand premiere of Reimann’s “Lear” still to follow in February. As part of the Shakespeare Festival, there is also the magnificent Shakespeare Gala featuring Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo in the Opera House on February 6.
This production of “Falstaff” by Hungarian State Opera is based in Windsor during the reign of Henry IV in the early fifteenth century. There is a star-studded cast in this opera, directed by Arnaud Bernard and conducted by Evelino Pidò. Alexandra Agache and Ambrogio Maestri alternate in the larger-than-life title role of Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff has an unrestrained zest for life, love and laughter, unashamedly chasing women and living life to the maximum.
Verdi said he wrote the opera for himself and not with his audience in mind; this was to be his final opera. His musical score contains rapid changes of mood and pace pulling along the drama and comic action on stage and ending optimistically. Although happy endings are not really in my lexicon, maybe a little light relief is not such a bad thing.
This slick comedy punctures the cold, stark January gloom as good as a sunlamp whichever side of the stage you are on, now Christmas is over and the gravestone grey buildings meet an unforgiving leaden sky. After all, to die on the stage every night is exhausting. To cry in the auditorium through tragedy after tragedy maybe equally so.
As uttered during the finale of “Falstaff”, we are reminded that light relief is essential in a dark world. “Tutto nel mondo è burla.” via budapesttimes.com
Hungarian State Opera
Opera House, Andrássy út 22, District VI
From Saturday 23rd January
until Sunday 31st January
(Returning on May 20th and May 22nd)
Tickets and information: stogram.hu