Lovers of Shakespeare and Verdi, and fans of Bryn Terfel are in for a treat this weekend as the Welsh bass-baritone stars in one of his most successful roles to date – the title role of Verdi’s comic-opera Falstaff – to be streamed by San Francisco Opera.
A production from Lyric Opera of Chicago, this 2013 performance Falstaff is directed for the stage by Olivier Tambosi – whose engagements for San Francisco Opera include Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in both 2006 and 2019 – and for the screen by Frank Zamacoma – who has been filming operas for the Company since 2007.
Led by San Francisco Opera’s then Music Director Nicola Luisotti, this production of Falstaff features an international cast including Spanish soprano Ainhoa Arteta as Alice, Italian baritone Fabio Capitanucci as her husband Ford, and American soprano Heidi Stober as their daughter Nannetta.
Verdi began composing Falstaff – the last of his 28 operas – in the final week of July 1889, setting the opera to a libretto by Arrigo Boito who had adapted his story from two works by Shakespeare – The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from the first two parts of Henry IV. The premiere took place at La Scala, Milan, on February 9th, 1893.
The plot of the opera revolves around the larger-than-life and ageing knight, Sir John Falstaff, whose funds are running low. He plans to seduce two women at the same time, both of whom are wives of prosperous Windsor citizens, and the self-deluded Falstaff hopes that in this way, he can lay hands on their husbands’ money.
When Alice Ford and Meg Page (a role sung by Adler Fellow Renée Rapier), realise that they’ve been sent identical letters by Falstaff, they set out to thwart his plans. Alice’s husband becomes involved in the plot and the farcical sequence of events which follow include Falstaff being hidden in a laundry basket and tossed into the River Thames. The denouement takes place at midnight in Windsor Forest, to which Falstaff has been lured, with Alice, Meg, Nannetta, and their friend Mistress Quickly (Meredith Arwady) dressed as fairies, goblins and wood sprites. They torment Falstaff until he begs for mercy, and when everyone is unmasked, Falstaff takes the consequences of his actions in good sport. All is forgiven as he declares that “the world is but a jest”.
Sir Bryn Terfel – he received a knighthood for services to music in 2017 – is “the definitive Falstaff of our day” according to the Chicago Tribune. The New York Times wrote that he is “… so irascible, nimble on his feet and altogether charming that he almost makes you forget how splendidly he sings the music”. The Guardian – following a 2018 performance at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden – referred to him as “magnificent”, while the Express wrote: “His is a Falstaff of boundless chutzpah, greedy and self-deluding, yet with an underlying twinkle”.
Recipient of numerous honors and accolades, and combining her opera performances with recitals and concerts, Ainhoa Arteta made her debut performance with San Francisco Opera as Musetta in Puccini’s La bohème during the 1999-2000 season, and returned to the Company to sing the “vocally alluring” Roxane (San Francisco Chronicle) in the Company’s 2010 production of Cyrano de Bergerac with Placido Domingo.
Fabio Capitanucci makes his debut performance with San Francisco Opera in the role of Ford – which he has also sung at Vienna State Opera, Dresdenʼs Saxon State Opera, and Bavarian State Opera in Munich. He returned to San Francisco Opera the following season to sing Dandini in Rossini’s Cinderella, with his “robust, warm voice and impressive Italianate lyricism” (the New York Times).
Heidi Stober’s collaboration with San Francisco Opera goes back to 2010, when she made her debut with the Company as Sophie in Massenet’s Werther and appeared as Susanna in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Since then she has appeared on a further eleven occasions for the Company, in roles as diverse as Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, as Magnolia Hawkes in Jerome Kern’s Show Boat, Johanna in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, and Angelica in Handel’s Orlando – to which she “brought her signature gleam”, said Seen and Heard International.
Also in the cast are Greg Fedderly as Bardolfo, Andrea Silvestrelli as Pistola and Francesco Demuro as Fenton.
Scenery and costumes for this production are by Frank Philipp Schlossman whose other engagements for San Francisco Opera include Janáček’s The Makropulos Case in 2010, and Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in 2019, with Olivier Tambosi.
Lighting is by Christine Binder who designed the lighting for San Francisco Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly during the 2010-11 season, and for the original staging of this production for Lyric Opera of Chicago.
San Francisco Opera’s production of Verdi’s Falstaff is available to view free of charge on Saturday, February 27th from 10.00 am (Pacific) until 11.59 pm on Sunday, February 28th – sung in Italian with English supertitles. Visit the San Francisco Opera website for more information.