Falstaff at the Vienna Staatsoper: Another Triumph for Bryn Terfel
last opera, Falstaff, which premiered
in 1893, when he was just a few months short
of his 80th birthday, is a summation of his
creative genius. The masterful libretto written
by Arrigo Boito, himself a composer, was based
largely on Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor but also incorporated material from Henry IV. Indeed it can be said without question that Verdi and Boito succeeded in creating one of the greatest operatic adaptations of Shakespearean material; its only serious rival being its predecessor, Othello. Falstaff was
written after Verdi’s second opera, the
comedy Un Giorn Di Regno, was a resounding
failure. Then, at the end of his spectacular
career, Verdi presented this second comedy,
his crowning achievement. Falstaff is concerned
with the approach of old age and the status
and position of an individual in his society,
and with Falstaff, Verdi may well have been
contemplating his own mortality.
This opera is demanding on the performers and orchestra as well as the audience. With one possible exception, there are no expected memorable set-piece arias. The success or failure of any performance depends largely on the bass-baritone who takes the title role and great Falstaffs of the previous generation have included Giuseppe Taddei and Tito Gobbi. Now it appears that the mantle has fallen on the Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel.
Falstaff is larger than life and no matter
where it is performed—in London, New York or Vienna—Terfel’s
Falstaff never disappoints. In Vienna, we had
the privilege of hearing this great vocal artist
in his artistic prime delivering a sumptuous
performance. He is also a consummate actor
and his towering stage presence is always dominant.
Terfel’s Falstaff is not merely a buffoon. He succeeds in making the knight human and personable and the elements in his complex character of vanity, over-confidence, jealousy and passion on the one hand, with failure and dejection on the other hand, are all there. Indeed, he conveyed all the colors of Verdi’s comic hero. Terfel was particularly impressive at the beginning of Act 3 after extricating himself from the River Thames, when he is absorbed in self-pity and contemplates his old age and the true meaning of his existence. But then, in the finale of the opera, his old confidence returns as he leads the cast in the masterful fugue, “Tutto Nel Mondo e Burla,” (The
whole world is but a joke) which concludes
However, Falstaff is
by no means a one-man show. This opera is an
ensemble piece, full of duets, trios and quartets.
In this production, there were excellent individual
performances, in terms of both singing and
acting. Baritone Carlos Alvarez was spectacular
as the aggrieved husband, Ford, and was particularly
impressive in his aria which follows his discovery
of what he thinks is his wife’s infidelity.
Also effective were sopranos Krassimira Stoyanova as Alice Ford and Elina Garanca as Meg Page, the ladies Falstaff tries to seduce simultaneously with the same love note. Stoyanova gave a superb performance, her voice being large and rich with a marvelous range of color. Jane Henschel as Dame Quickly was also very satisfying and with her stylistic mezzo voice, she easily negotiated the tricky course that her role demanded and succeeded in pulling off this comic role with great aplomb.
Bori Keszei in
her Staatsoper debut as Nanetta and Rainer
Trost as Fenton were a sweet-voiced pair of
lovers, both ardent and expressive. Michael
Roider was a suitably nagging Dr. Cajus, and
Herwig Pecoraro and Alfred Sramek as Falstaff’s
servants Bardolfo and Pistol also provided
some great comic moments coupled with fine
The State Opera orchestra, under Fabio Luisi, delivered an exhilarating performance. Their accompaniment was round, warm and often gorgeous. This is a score that would stand alone and to his credit, Luisi succeeded in accompanying but not outperforming the soloists.
This was a new
production by Marco Arturo Marelli. The staging
was simple but effective. Falstaff’s
abode in the Garter Inn was sub-stage. The
rest was at stage level, including the action
involving the women Falstaff plots to conquer
as well as the young lovers Nanetta and Fenton.
Falstaff is dressed in Elizabethan costume
whereas the remainder of the cast were in modern
dress, which may perhaps have been somewhat
overdone, but still served to symbolically
indicate that Falstaff is out of touch with
All in all, a most satisfying and enjoyable evening at the Staatsoper, in a production which does them proud.#