Falstaff is a comic opera in three acts by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. The libretto was adapted by Arrigo Boito from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from Henry IV, parts 1 and 2; the work premiered on 9 February 1893 at Milan. Verdi wrote Falstaff, the last of his 28 operas, as he was approaching the age of 80, it was his second comedy, his third work based on a Shakespeare play, following Macbeth and Otello. The plot revolves around the thwarted, sometimes farcical, efforts of the fat knight, Sir John Falstaff, to seduce two married women to gain access to their husbands' wealth. Verdi was concerned about working on a new opera at his advanced age, but he yearned to write a comic work and was pleased with Boito's draft libretto, it took the collaborators three years from mid-1889 to complete. Although the prospect of a new opera from Verdi aroused immense interest in Italy and around the world, Falstaff did not prove to be as popular as earlier works in the composer's canon.
After the initial performances in Italy, other European countries and the US, the work was neglected until the conductor Arturo Toscanini insisted on its revival at La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera in New York from the late 1890s into the next century. Some felt that the piece suffered from a lack of the full-blooded melodies of the best of Verdi's previous operas, a view contradicted by Toscanini. Conductors of the generation after Toscanini to champion the work included Herbert von Karajan, Georg Solti and Leonard Bernstein; the work is now part of the regular operatic repertory. Verdi made numerous changes to the music after the first performance, editors have found difficulty in agreeing on a definitive score; the work has subsequently received many studio and live recordings. Singers associated with the title role have included Victor Maurel, Mariano Stabile, Giuseppe Valdengo, Tito Gobbi, Geraint Evans and Bryn Terfel. By 1889 Verdi had been an opera composer for more than fifty years.
He had written 27 operas, of which only one was a comedy, his second work, Un giorno di regno, staged unsuccessfully in 1840. His fellow composer Rossini commented that he admired Verdi but thought him incapable of writing a comedy. Verdi disagreed and said that he longed to write another light-hearted opera, but nobody would give him the chance, he had included moments of comedy in his tragic operas, for example in Un ballo in maschera and La forza del destino. For a comic subject Verdi considered Cervantes's Don Quixote and plays by Goldoni, Molière and Labiche, but found none of them wholly suitable; the singer Victor Maurel sent him a French libretto based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Verdi liked it, but replied that "to deal with it properly you need a Rossini or a Donizetti". Following the success of Otello in 1887 he commented, "After having relentlessly massacred so many heroes and heroines, I have at last the right to laugh a little." He confided his ambition to the librettist of Arrigo Boito.
Boito said nothing at the time, but he secretly began work on a libretto based on The Merry Wives of Windsor with additional material taken from Henry IV, parts 1 and 2. Many composers had set the play to music, with little success, among them Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Antonio Salieri, Michael William Balfe and Adolphe Adam; the first version to secure a place in the operatic repertoire was Otto Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1849, but its success was confined to German opera houses. Boito was doubly pleased with The Merry Wives as a plot. Not only was it Shakespearian, it was based in part on Trecento Italian works – Il Pecorone by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, Boccaccio's Decameron. Boito adopted a deliberately archaic form of Italian to "lead Shakespeare's farce back to its clear Tuscan source", as he put it, he trimmed the plot, halved the number of characters in the play, gave the character of Falstaff more depth by incorporating dozens of passages from Henry IV. Verdi received the draft libretto a few weeks by early July 1889, at a time when his interest had been piqued by reading Shakespeare's play: "Benissimo!
Benissimo!... No one could have done better than you", he wrote back. Like Boito, Verdi revered Shakespeare; the composer did not speak English, but he owned and re-read Shakespeare's plays in Italian translations by Carlo Rusconi and Giulio Carcano, which he kept by his bedside. He had earlier set operatic adaptations of Shakespeare's Macbeth and Othello and had considered King Lear as a subject. Verdi still had doubts, on the next day sent another letter to Boito expressing his concerns, he wrote of "the large number of years" in his age, his health and his ability to complete the project: "if I were not to finish the music?" He said that the project could all be a waste of the younger man's time and distract Boito from completing his own new opera. Yet, as his biographer Mary Jane Phillips-Matz notes, "Verdi could not hide his delight at the idea of writing another opera". On 10 July 1889 he wrote again: Amen. So let's do Falstaff! For now, let's not think of obstacles, of age, of illnesses! I want to keep the deepest secrecy: a word that I underline three times to you that no one must know anything about it!
Anyway, if you are in the mood start to write. Boito's original sketch is lost, but surviving correspondence shows that the finished opera is not different from his first thoughts; the major diffe
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