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Teatro Regio, Sunday 7 October 2007 - Wednesday 24 October 2007
«The Merry Wives of Windsor is a frankly boring comedy. We must be thankful to Shakespeare for having written it since it inspired Verdi’s Falstaff, a sublime operatic masterpiece». So wrote W.H. Auden in his “Lectures on Shakespeare” in New York in 1947. He explained away the Shakespearian comedy and instead of analyzing it had his students listen to a recording of Verdi’s opera. Verdi’s last opera is the result of the composer’s unexhausted love for Shakespeare (the pet project to set King Lear to music …) and the desire to write a comic opera (in 1840 A One-Day Reign had been a resounding failure, and then there was the opinion of Rossini, who had declared that Verdi had no talent for comic theatre).
Thus in 1890, a seventy-seven year old Verdi wrote to Gino Monaldi: «For forty years I have wanted to write a comic opera, and for fifty I have known The Merry Wives of Windsor; and yet… the usual buts, which are everywhere, always objected to satisfying this desire of mine. Now Boito has resolved all the buts, and has made me a lyric comedy unlike any other. I have fun making its music; without any plans whatsoever, and I don’t even know if I’ll finish … I repeat: I have fun… Falstaff is a sad character who commits all sorts of nasty actions… but in an amusing way. He’s a character! There are, yes, various characters! The opera is completely comical!». Othello, with the libretto by Boito, had been performed at the Scala on 5 February 1887.
Everyone thought that it would have been his last opera and instead, between 76 and 79 years of age, Verdi is working calmly on Falstaff, a subject that had already been set to music by Salieri in 1798 (Falstaff or The Three Jokes) and in 1849 by Otto Nicolai (Die Lustige Weiber von Windsor). On 9 February 1893, the opera goes on stage at the Scala with Carducci, Leoncavallo, Puccini, Mascagni and Serao in the theatre. The composer comes out three times after the first act, six after the second, seven after the third, and after the performance a group of spectators celebrate him in front of the Milan Hotel. Verdi throws the public and critics a curve: on a libretto that is very sophisticated and filled with puns, the irony and calm look of an almost octogenarian enable him to avoid separate numbers, to play at quoting himself, to end his operatic career with a fugue to the tune of the opera’s last lines: “The whole world is a joke”.
Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Librettist: Arrigo Boito
Year of the first performance: 1893 Teatro alla Scala di Milano