Opera Etiquette

Document Sample
Opera Etiquette Powered By Docstoc
					Edmonton Opera Education
  Program Study Guide

       Giuseppe Verdi’s


         Sponsored by

                Table of Contents

       SECTION ONE: Opera Background
Opera Etiquette……………………………………………………………...….3
What is Opera? …………………………………………….………………..…4
Operatic Voice …………………………………………………………….......5
A Short History of Opera ……………..……………………………………….6
Verdi’s Role the development of Opera ………………………………………7
Opera Activity: Opera is everywhere….………....…………………………...8

Cast ………………………………………………………………….……..…10
Synopsis. ……………………………………………………………..…….....11
Historical Background…..……………………………………………………13
Biographies ……………………………………………………………….….14
Adapting Shakespeare into Opera………………………………….…………19
Did you know? …………………………………………………………….....20
Discussion Questions ……………………………………………………...….21

              Adolf Schrödter's "Falstaff und sein Page"

                          Opera Etiquette
ALWAYS BE EARLY! Once a performance begins, no one will be allowed
into the theatre until intermission. We suggest you arrive half an hour early to
pick up your tickets (if you don’t already have them), and prepare to enter the
auditorium fifteen minutes prior to showtime.

USE THE RESTROOM. Once in the theatre it is courteous to remain seated
and involved in the production until intermission. Please do not leave the
theatre unless there is an emergency.

PLEASE BE COURTEOUS to everyone in the audience and on stage.
Theatre is live performance, so any talking, cell-phone use (including texting)
or noise making takes away from everyone’s experience at the opera.

APPLAUSE WELCOME! Opera is spectacle. Your presence in the audience
is essential to complete the whole experience. Enjoy the performance and
respond to what you see. Unlike television or film, every live performance is
unique. Only you and the performers and musicians will share the experience
you have in the theatre. Your warmth and good humour are important to them,
so when you like something, tell them with your applause.

NO FOOD, DRINKS, OR GUM IN THE THEATRE. This rule is strictly

NO CAMERAS OR TAPE RECORDERS: the artists’ images and
performances belong to them and we ask you to respect that by refraining from
recording their work in any way.

                             What is Opera?
The word opera is the plural form of the Latin word opus, which translates quite
literally as work. The use of the plural form reflects the many art forms that combine to
create an operatic performance. Today we use the word opera to refer to a theatrically
based musical art form in which the drama is sung (without microphones!), rather than
spoken, and is accompanied by a full symphony orchestra.

Opera was born out of the belief that drama can be better expressed by music and text
than by text alone. One of the unique things about opera is how it combines so many
different art forms (music, drama, and visual arts) to create an artistic spectacle. Of
course, many art forms mean that there are many people involved in the creation and
production of an opera:

                            Composer: Composes the music
                Librettist: Chooses a story, writes or adapts the words
                           Conductor: Directs the musicians
                   Director: Blocks or stages the entire production
                      Principal Singers: Have the leading roles
                       Comprimario Singers: Supporting roles
                                 Chorus: Sing as a group
                        Supernumeraries: Act but do not sing
Repetiteur: Accompanies the singers during rehearsal – plays the whole orchestra score
                                       on the piano
            Costume Designer: Designs the costumes for each character
           Wardrobe/Costume Staff: build, fit, clean and repair costumes
             Wig and Make-up Staff: Make wigs and prepare make-up
                Make-up Artists: Apply make-up for principal singers
                        Dressers: Help singers put on costumes
                  Set Designer: Designs the scenery for each scene
                     Lighting Designer: Designs lighting effects
                   Prop Builders: Build the props for entire opera
Stage Manager: “Calls the show” -- cues all scenery changes, lighting and actors so that
                          everything happens at the right time.
                Stagehands: Move scenery; run lighting & sound cues
         Critic: Writes a critique of performance for newspaper, radio, or TV
                Front of House Staff: Work in the performance venue
 Administrative Staff: Choose which shows to produce; Find funding (!); sell tickets;
                  hire artists; take care of the business side of opera.
              Audience: Enjoys/appreciates opera from a seat in the hall

                          The Operatic Voice
Being an opera singer is hard work! Singers need strong physical technique that allows
the singer to sustain long phrases through the control of both the inhalation and
exhalation of breath. Likewise, the voice (regardless of its size) must maintain a
resonance in both the head (mouth, sinuses) and chest cavities. The Italian word “squillo”
(squeal) is used to describe the brilliant tone required to be heard above symphony
orchestra that accompanies the singers. Opera singers are usually not mic’d, so they must
project their voice throughout a whole theatre using only their muscles and technique!
Finally, all voices are defined by both the actual voice “type” and the selection of
repertoire for which the voice is ideally suited.

The range, pitch, and tone of a singer’s voice will determine what kind of role they will
play in the opera. The following voice types can be found in most operas:

• Soprano – The highest pitched female voice (usually plays the lead)
• Mezzo-Soprano – Lower than the soprano and higher than contralto. Usually plays
either a pant/trouser role (the character of a young boy) or a complex character with
energy and awareness of life, or an evil character.
• Contralto – the lowest pitched female voice (usually plays a maid, mother, or

• Tenor – the highest pitched male voice (usually the lead)
• Baritone – the male who sings the medium notes (often a middle-aged, fatherly figure)
• Bass – the lowest pitched male singing voice (sometimes a villain or a comic character)

      What voice type do you think Falstaff will have? Why?

                      A Short History of Opera
Opera as an art form began with the inclusion of incidental music performed during the
tragedies and comedies popular during ancient Greek times. The tradition of including
music as an integral part of theatrical activities expanded in Roman times and continued
throughout the Middle Ages. Traditional view holds that the first completely sung
musical drama (or opera) developed as a result of discussions held in Florence in the
1570s by an informal academy known as the Florentine Camerata, which led to the
musical setting of Rinuccini’s drama, Dafne, by composer Jacopo Peri in 1597.

The work of such early Italian masters as Giulio Caccini and Claudio Monteverdi led to
the development of a through-composed musical entertainment (where the singers never
speak but always sing), comprised first of recitative sections (speech-singing, in which
the singer sings the words but imitates the free rhythms of speech), which revealed the
plot of the drama. Recitatives were followed by arias (Italian for “air,” meaning a main
song that reveals both the emotion of the characters, and the qualities of the soloists’
voices). The function of the chorus in these early works was to comment on the action,
just as the Greek chorus did thousands of years before.

Opera has flourished throughout the world as a vehicle for the expression of the full
range of human emotions. Italian composers like Giuseppe Verdi and later Giacomo
Puccini dominated the field until 1924, when Puccini passed away. The Austrian
composer Wolgang Amadeus Mozart also wrote operas in Italian and championed the
singspiel (“sing play”, where spoken dialogue is used instead of recitative), which
combined the spoken word with music, a form also used by Ludwig Van Beethoven in
his only opera, Fidelio. Bizet, Offenbach, Gounod, and Meyerbeer led the adaptation by
the French which ranged from the lighter opera comique to the grand, full-scale tragedie
lyrique (which had ties to the court and concentrated on themes of courtly love and
knightly behaviour). German composers von Weber, Strauss, and Wagner developed
diverse forms such as singspiel and through-composed spectacles unified through the
use of the leitmotif (musical motifs that appear throughout the work and are tied to a
specific idea or character). Lighter forms of opera in England, Vienna, and Spain helped
to establish opera as a form of entertainment, and opera continues to enjoy great
popularity throughout the world. With the beginning of the 20th century, composers in
America diverged from European traditions in order to focus on their own roots while
exploring and developing the vast body of the country’s folk music and legends.
Composers such as Aaron Copland, Douglas Moore, and Carlisle Floyd have all crafted
operas that have been presented throughout the world to great success. Today, composers
like John Adams and Philip Glass are credited with the infusion of new life into the art
form, which continues to evolve even though it is now nearly 500 years old.

    Verdi’s Role in the Development of Opera
Giuseppi Verdi has been called “the father of opera” by many opera experts, and his
influence on the art form is certainly undeniable:

• It is easy to see Verdi’s prominence in the world of opera by considering how many of
his 37 operas are considered mandatory repertoire on major operatic stages around the
world: Nabucco, Aida, La Traviata, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Otello, Macbeth.
• His work demonstrates a shift from the comedies of Rossini and Donizetti to grand,
spectacular and immensely emotional opera – and a sense of emotional intimacy, which
helped pave the way for the verismo operas (like Puccini’s La Bohème) that followed at
the turn of the 20th century.
• Verdi and Richard Wagner are called the “twin colossi of nineteenth-century opera”
(Opera 101 page 35), and though the pair wrote very different work, they both believed
fundamentally that opera was a ‘music-drama’ which encompassed all artistic elements
into a single homogenous spectacle – and these included through-composed music
(where the singing is continuous and there is no speech) that had no full-stops for arias.
Although arias survived the Verdi/Wagner era, these composers’ philosophies have, in
essence, become the working definition of opera.
• Verdi’s development of his characters and their struggles and triumphs resulted in some
of the most stirring and beautiful music known in Europe at the time – he embraced grand
themes without sacrificing a personal quality for the characters representing them.
• Verdi is credited with some of the best Shakespeare adaptations in the operatic canon:
Otello, Macbeth, and Falstaff.
• Verdi’s last opera – Falstaff – was written when he was 79, and some some say it is his
best work – although its humorous subject matter has perhaps kept it from the acclaim
granted to some of his more serious works.

              Activity: Opera is Everywhere!
We don’t called it the greatest and grandest of art forms for nothing… the stories,
characters and music from opera can be found in every corner of Western culture, from
books and plays to hip-hop and cartoons.

For students new to opera, a great starting point may be discovering all the places where
they may have inadvertently already listened to Opera.

Here’s how it works:
Pick one of the most famous operas you know (or, if you know none, choose one from
this list) ….

                                   Aida (Verdi 1871)
                             Barber of Seville (Rossini 1816)
                                  Carmen (Bizet 1875)
                              Don Giovanni (Mozart 1787)
                               La Bohème (Puccini 1896)
                                La Traviata (Verdi 1853)
                            Madama Butterfly (Puccini 1904)
                             The Magic Flute (Mozart 1791)
                            Marriage of Figaro (Mozart 1786)
                                 Rigoletto (Verdi 1851)
                                  Tosca (Puccini 1900)
                                Turandot (Puccini 1926)

…..and go exploring! See where the themes, characters, and music appear in our culture
today! Great places to start looking are musicals (Rent, for example, is based directly on
La Boheme), cartoons (Bugs Bunny was a big opera fan), and movie scores, but the sky is
the limit – you’ll be surprised where you find opera these days!

It’s important to note that websites like Wikipedia, the Internet Movie Database, and
“Opera goes to the Movies” are a great help, but they make it even more important to
compare the context in which an opera was written to the contexts in which it ends up
being used.

Some Questions to ask: What changes when opera is introduced in new places? What
stays the same? Even the important question of genre: is it still opera if it’s used in a
soap commercial? And if not, what does it become?

This is one way to get students thinking of opera as a vibrant and current art form, and
helps break down the stereotype of opera being old and boring!

Section 2: Falstaff

               April 19, 22 and 24, 2008

             Music by Giuseppe Verdi
         Libretto in Italian by Arrigo Boito.
      An adaptation of William Shakespeare’s
     The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV.

 Premiere: Teatro alla Scala, Milan, February 9, 1893

       Conductor                     James Meena
       Director                     Brian Deedrick

                       The Cast
            (in order of vocal appearance)

                Dr. Caius             Keith Klassen
         Sir John Falstaff            John Fanning
                Bardolfo              Michel Corbeil
                   Pistola            Taras Kulish
         Mrs. Alice Ford              Christiane Riel
          Mrs. Meg Page               Norine Burgess
           Dame Quickly               Lyne McMurtry
                  Nanetta             Nikki Einfeld
                  Fenton              Colin Ainsworth
                     Ford             John Avey

               All artists subject to change.

                    with the
             Edmonton Opera Chorus
                    and the
        The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

          Chorus Director         Peter Dala
               Repetiteur         Peter Dala
    Lighting designed by          Bretta Gerecke
     Scenery designed by          Peter Dean Beck
  Scenery constructed by          Edmonton Opera
   Costumes designed by           Suzanne Moss for Malabar Costumes
Costumes constructed by           Malabar
           Stage Manager          Ha Neul Kim
Assistant Stage Managers          Jacquie Dawkins and Lauren Thomas



Sir John Falstaff (pronounced as in English) – Baritone
Alice Ford (Ah-lee-cheh Fohrd) – Noblewoman of Windsor – Soprano
Ford (Fohrd) – A wealthy burghar of Windsor, husband of Alice – Baritone
Nannetta (Nahn-neht-tah) – their daughter – Soprano
Fenton (Pronounced as in English) – A young gentleman in love with Nannetta- Tenor
Meg Page (Pronounced as in English) – Noblewoman of Windsor – Mezzo-Soprano
Dame Quickly (Pronounced as in English – Noblewoman of Windsor – Contralto
Dottore Caius (Doht-toh-reh Kah-yoos) – physician – Tenor
Bardolfo (Bar-dohl-foh) – Henchman to Falstaff – Tenor
Pistola (Pee-stoh-lah) – Henchman to Falstaff – Bass

Act One

Inside the Garter Inn, Dr. Caius accuses the aging, fat rogue Sir John Falstaff of housebreaking,
and the knight’s two henchmen, Bardolfo and Pistola, of pick-pocketing. Calmly ordering
another drink, Falstaff refuses to make amends, and Bardolfo and Pistola deny everything. His
charges unsatisfied, Caius storms out of the inn. Falstaff, after examining his bill and grumbling
at his spendthrift lackeys, discloses another scheme for financial gain, for he must support his
expanding and magnificent paunch. He plans, he says, to seduce Alice Ford and Meg Page,
wives of prosperous Windsor citizens. Citing newly found principles of honour, Bardolfo and
Pistola refuse to deliver Sir John’s love letters to the two women. Falstaff gives the letters to a
page and discharges the two ruffians from his service, but not before giving them an extended
lecture on the bankruptcy of honour itself.

In a garden, Alice and Meg show each other Falstaff’s “wicked letters” and discover that they are
identical. Together with Dame Quickly and Alice’s daughter Nannetta they denounce Falstaff
and vow to trick him. As they leave, Ford, Caius, Fenton, Bardolfo, and Pistola enter, burning
with rage: the two discharged thieves have just told the gullible Ford of Falstaff’s intentions. As
the wives re-enter to concoct their plan, Nannetta and Fenton, deeply in love, try to steal an
amorous moment for themselves. The ladies determine that Quickly will visit Sir John at the
Garter Inn and arrange a tryst with Alice. Ignorant of this, the men devise their own scheme:
under an assumed name, Ford will go to see Falstaff and engage him in a plot of revenge.

Feigning penitence, Bardolfo and Pistola rejoin Falstaff’s service and introduce Dame Quickly,
who through extravagant flattery arranges a rendezvous between Falstaff and Alice – to happen

that very afternoon. When Quickly departs, Sir John congratulates himself on his continuing
irresistibility to women. Within moments, a second visitor approaches. This is “Signor
Fontana,” actually Ford in disguise, who comes with a lucrative offer. Claiming to be Alice’s
unrequited lover, he asks Falstaff, surely a more “seasoned” lover, to seduce Ford’s wife as a
prelude to his own advances. When Falstaff tells “Fontana” that he will be meeting and
hopefully seducing Alice that very afternoon, Ford is shattered and thunderstruck. When Falstaff
leaves the room, he contemplates the nightmares of cuckoldry and vows to avenge the insult.
Falstaff returns and the two leave the inn.

In a room in Ford’s house, Dame Quickly tells the women of her visit with Falstaff. Alice
assures a tearful Nannetta that she will not have to marry Dr. Caius (as her father wishes), and
prepares the room for Falstaff’s visit and the ensuing mischief. Soon Falstaff arrives, but his
aggressive wooing is interrupted when Quickly runs in, warning of Meg’s approach, whereupon
Falstaff is forced to hide behind a screen. Meg reports that Ford is on his way home with a band
of men, all swearing vengeance on Falstaff! Ford enters and searches frantically for Falstaff,
even to the point of overturning and emptying the laundry basket. As Ford leaves to search
elsewhere, the women stuff the trembling Falstaff into the laundry basket as a means of escape
and Nannetta and Fenton slip behind the screen to steal a few kisses. Ford and the men return,
and hearing kisses, are convinced that Falstaff and Alice are behind the screen. They slowly
converge only to find Fenton and Nannetta, enraging Ford all the more. The wives call for the
servants, who dump the basket into the Thames, and when Ford returns, Alice shows him the
spectacle of Falstaff floundering in the river.

Act 2

The drenched Falstaff sits in a square outside the Garter Inn, drinking a glass of warm wine that
changes his spirits from desolation to exhilaration. Suddenly Quickly enters again, saying that
Alice wants to meet him again, this time at midnight in Windsor forest, where for mystery’s sake
he must wear the horns of the ghostly “Black Hunter,” 1 as Quickly and the aroused Falstaff leave
to talk further, Alice tells the tale of the Black Hunter and prepares the rest of the characters for
the coming evening’s masquerade. Ford privately promises Caius that he can marry Nannetta
that evening and reminds him to wear the proper disguise. Quickly overhears this and begins to
devise a plan to save Nannetta from a loveless marriage.

In the nocturnal setting of Windsor Forest, Fenton sings a sonnet equating music with kisses.
Falstaff soon enters, with antlers tied onto his head. Fearful of the eerie surroundings, he counts
the midnight hours apprehensively. Alice appears, and Falstaff begins his seduction at once. All
of a sudden Meg is heard crying for help, and Falstaff hears what he imagines are fairy voices,
and stretches himself out on the ground for protection. Nannetta enters, disguised as the Queen
of the Fairies. With her fairy retinue and disguised townspeople, she torments the prostrate
Falstaff with denunciations and pinching. Under this barrage, Falstaff repents. He soon
 This refers to the legend of Herne the Hunter, the man who saved King Richard II’s life, and was revived from the
dead by a ritual involving tying antlers to his head. He was also associated with the idea of a “wild hunt.” His ghost
was thought to haunt Windsor Forest, particularly the Oak Tree from which he was eventually hanged. See Merry
Wives of Windsor 4.4 for Shakespeare’s account of Herne.

discovers that his tormentors are human, not supernatural, and eventually accepts his punishment
in good humour. Ford announces the wedding procession of his daughter and Caius and agrees
to marry another similarly disguised couple. After the marriage ceremony he learns that, quite
against his will and thanks to Quickly’s intervention, he has married Nannetta to Fenton and
Caius to a veiled Bardolfo. Ford admits that he, too, has been duped and blesses his daughter’s
marriage. Falstaff announces that everything in the world is a jest, and all agree that who laughs
last, laughs best.

Courtesy of Baltimore Opera

                                  Falstaff in the laundry basket

                                  Historical Context

Arrigo Boito had to convince Verdi to leave his retirement in 1889 to write Falstaff – although it
seems that the outline of the libretto did most of the convincing. Falstaff was a departure from
Verdi’s other work in a variety of ways: it was only his second comedy, it took him 2 years to
write it (Aida took only 4 months) and he asked Boito for very few revisions to the libretto.
 The world was undergoing a great deal of change at this time, some examples being the
invention of the diesel engine, the rise of the temperance movement, and increasing popularity of
verismo (realistic, or ‘truth’) opera. Verdi’s ability to write such a departure from his earlier
work, so late in his life, is a true testament to his artistic genius. The opera premiered at La Scala
in 1893, and some critics believe that Falstaff’s “Va, Va, Vecchio John” is also a farewell to
opera from Verdi.

Some Notable Events of the 1890’s:

   •   H.G. Wells created modern science fiction with his novel The War of the Worlds in 1898.
   •   Nikola Tesla presents one of the world’s first radios in 1893.
   •   In July of 1890, Vincent Van Gogh shoots himself and dies.

                           Van Gogh’s Starry Night (from

   •   In December of 1891 the Canadian Pacific Railway is extended to Edmonton.
   •   In 1896, Gold is discovered in the Yukon Territory, sparking the beginning of the
       Klondike Gold Rush.

 Research Question: What was happening in Edmonton at the time
                that Falstaff was first performed?


                                Giuseppe Verdi
                               COMPOSER (1813-1901)

Born in 1813 in the Italian village of Le Roncole near Busseto, Giuseppe Verdi spent his
early years studying the organ. By the age of seven, he had become an organist at San
Michele Arcangelo. It was there that the young Verdi was an altar boy and, according to
myth, his mother saved him from the French in 1814. In 1823, Verdi moved to Busseto
and attended the music school run by Antonio Provesi. By the age of 13, he was an
assistant conductor of the Busseto orchestra. After finishing the school, Verdi applied for
admission to the Milan Conservatory. He was rejected for admission, although one of the
examiners suggested that he "forget about the Conservatory and choose a maestro in the
city." Verdi studied composition in Milan with Vincenzo Lavigna, a composer and the
maestro at La Scala. Verdi bounced back and forth between Milan and Busseto until he
was named maestro of the Busseto Philharmonic in March 1836. By May 1836, he had
married childhood sweetheart, Margherita Barezzi, his greatest benefactor's daughter. He
returned to Milan several years later, this time with a young family.

Verdi's first opera, Oberto, was brought to the stage at La Scala in November 1839 and
ran for multiple performances. The noted Ricordi firm published Oberto and, based upon
his initial operatic effort, Verdi won a contract for three additional operas. He began work
on his next opera, Un Giorno di Regno, but was interrupted when, one by one, his family
fell ill. Over the course of a few weeks, Verdi lost his son, his daughter, and his beloved
wife to illness. Unfortunately, Un Giorno was a complete failure.

Verdi vowed never to compose another comedy and developed a fatalistic belief in
inescapable destiny. Even so, the director at La Scala kept faith with Verdi, who later
declared that with his next work, Nabucco, "my musical career really began." At dress
rehearsals for Nabucco, in the La Scala Theater, carpenters making repairs to the house
gradually stopped hammering and, seating themselves on scaffolding and ladders,
listened with rapt attention to what the composer considered a lackluster chorus rendering
of "Va, pensiero." At the close of the number, the workers pounded the woodwork with
cries of "Bravo, bravo, viva il maestro!" The opening of Nabucco was a triumph. Verdi
was famous, commanding a higher fee than any other composer of his time.

I Lombardi followed Nabucco and won an unprecedented victory over Austrian censors.
Verdi's triumph in retaining the libretto and melodic themes the censors had hoped to ban
as "religious" in nature forged the composer's lifelong reputation as an ideological hero of
the Italian people. This would be the first of his many battles with censors for artistic

Over the next seven years, the composer penned ten additional operas of varied success,
gradually making the transition between two distinct eras of Verdi composition. Initially
captive of the "bel canto" style and heir to Donizetti's artistic throne, Verdi continually
experimented to produce his own operatic genre in which melodic drama and identifiable
musical essence of character took center stage as an equal to vocal purity and elegance.

It was an inspired stroke of boldness about which Verdi commented in explaining the
innovative core of his work Il Trovatore, "I think (if I'm not mistaken) that I have done
well; but at any rate I have done it in the way that I felt it." In saying so, he defined his
own creative hallmark. Although a musical genius, Verdi composed spontaneously from
the heart. A brilliantly schooled musician, he placed emotional sensibility above intellect
in all that he wrote. In the process, he created the remarkable marriage of dramatic
characterization and vocal power, an indelible artistic signature.

The creation of an operatic tour de force based upon his ingenious artistic formulation
assured Verdi's immortality, beginning in 1851 with Rigoletto, followed soon after by Il
Trovatore, La Traviata, and ultimately in 1871, Aida. Even without the masterpieces that
followed - Simon Boccanegra, Un Ballo in Maschera, La Forza del Destino, and Don
Carlos or his great Requiem Mass - the Maestro could have afforded to rest on his
musical achievements and stand unchallenged as the premier operatic composer of any
age. In fact, with the success of Aida, Verdi seemed to have abandoned composing
altogether, producing no new works for fifteen years.

Fortunately for posterity, an electrifying libretto, Otello, created by poet Arrigo Boito,
brought the composer out of his self-imposed retirement. The opening of Otello in
February of 1887 attracted an international audience to Milan for a dramatic event which
ended only after the citizenry had showered Verdi with gifts and applause throughout
twenty curtain calls and towed his carriage to the hotel. Public festivities continued until
dawn. In 1893, with the premiere of Falstaff, Verdi and his adoring audience repeated the
entire sequence of events at La Scala - all in honor of a comedy he had vowed as a young
man never to write. The maestro finally retreated to his country home in Sant' Agata with
his second wife, singer Giuseppina Strepponi.

                                  Giuseppina Strepponi.

They spent several peaceful years in retirement until her death in 1897. His wife's death
left Verdi in a state of unbearable grief. He immediately fled Sant' Agata for the Grand
Hotel in Milan and, after four unhappy years, Verdi died in 1901, the victim of a massive
stroke. Verdi's death left all Italy in mourning. He still is revered throughout the music
world as the greatest of operatic composers and, more particularly, in Italy as a patriotic
hero and champion of human rights.

                                    Arrigo Boito
                              LIBRETTIST (1842-1918)

The son of a painter of miniatures and a Polish countess, Boito was brought up in Venice
after his father deserted his wife and two sons. Between the ages of five and ten he
received his first musical instruction. He began his studies at the Milan Conservatory in
1853. Boito traveled abroad on a grant and, in 1862 he met Rossini and Verdi in Paris.
There, Boito wrote the text for Verdi’s Inno delle nazioni, performed at Her Majesty’s
Theatre, London, in 1862. Boito was already at work on an opera about Faust subject
entitled Mefistofele, and he was also planning another opera, Nerone, which he would
never complete. The première of Mefistofele in 1868 was a historic fiasco, lasting until
well past midnight with the opposing factions in the audience vociferously sustaining
their positions; the only part to be well received was the prologue. During the next few
years Boito devoted himself to writing articles, including many on opera and to supplying
Italian translations of German lieder. Before the end of 1879, Boito submitted a complete
libretto on the subject of Shakespeare’s Otello, and Verdi was impressed with its quality.
The triumphant first performance of Otello on in 1887 set the seal upon Boito’s
friendship with Verdi, a relationship he regarded as the climax of his artistic life. They
then collaborated on Falstaff. Boito was present when Verdi died in 1901.

       -Courtesy of Grove Music Online

                       The Adaptation Process
                        William Shakespeare
                           PLAYWRIGHT (1564-1616)

There are approximately 270 operas based on Shakespeare’s plays. Verdi wrote three
operas that were adaptations of plays by Shakespeare: Macbeth, Otello, and Falstaff. He
had hoped to write an adaptation of Lear, but died without succeeding in this venture.
His Shakespeare operas are generally given primary status over other efforts, and this is
perhaps due to the attention he gives to rendering the characters and preserving (even
expanding) the intensity of their emotions through his music.

In Falstaff, the source plays are necessarily simplified into a smaller plot, which leaves
room for the musical development of characters’ emotions and thoughts. The primary
source for this opera is The Merry Wives of Windsor, which is generally agreed to have
been written after both Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2 (Shakespeare’s other
Falstaff plays). The action itself seems to take place in the period following Henry IV
Part 2, where Falstaff is abandoned by Prince Hal, and before his death (which is
mentioned in Henry V).

A number of characters are cut from the plays, including Justice Shallow and his stupid
nephew, Sir Hugh Evans, Nym and even Mr. Page, which leaves Mrs. Page as a freelance
intriguer, while Nannetta becomes part of the Ford family. The Merry Wives of Windsor
plot is supplemented with a romantic subplot developed in the laundry-basket episode,
and culminates with intrigue and disguise in the forest scenes. The elements from Henry
IV are used primarily to develop the character of Sir John, like his speech on honour from
5.1 of Henry IV Part One, which becomes the aria “L’onori! Ladri”in act one of Verdi’s

                               Did you know?
•   Nabucco’s “Va Pensiero” theme is the unofficial Italian anthem and was actually
    used in the resistance movement that preceded the 1859 unification of Italy!

               Giuseppe Garibaldi, one of the architects of Italian Unification

•   When Verdi died, Italians lined the streets for his funeral procession to mourn the
    death of a national hero.

•   Rehearsals for the premiere of Falstaff lasted 5 weeks and Verdi retained the right
    to pull the production after dress rehearsal if he was unsatisfied! Edmonton Opera
    will rehearse as a full cast for only 2 weeks before you see the dress rehearsal.

                       Discussion Questions

1. How would you describe the humour in Falstaff? How does it differ from some
   other comedic forms you know?

2. Falstaff is much more through-composed than Verdi’s other operas, but even
   without big arias, it boasts some beautiful and memorable music. Which parts
   were most musically striking for you? Why?

3. At the end of Falstaff, Dr. Caius finds himself married to Bardolph. How might
   this humour be staged differently today than in Shakespeare or Verdi’s time? How
   would you stage the mixed-up marriage sequence?

4. In Ford’s aria “La Fondo del mio cor la gelosia,” Verdi gives a nod to Mozart’s
   Marriage of Figaro (“Gia ognuno lo sa!”) in his scoring of the French Horn part.
   Compare the two. How does the instrumental music reflect/ respond to the text
   being sung?

5. Ford wants his daughter, Nannetta, to marry a man she does not love. This is a
   common theme in both Shakespeare and opera. Compare this plot in Falstaff with
   those in other works you know. How does it resolve in other works? By what
   means does the daughter succeed in getting her way? When does she fail? Are
   there writers / composers who are more or less sympathetic to young lovers than

6. Discuss the following statement: “In Falstaff, forgiveness is the catalyst that
   keeps the comedy moving forward, and prevents it from becoming tragic.”

 What did you think of
     the opera?
Edmonton Opera and our Education Sponsors
 are delighted to have you join us, and love
          hearing student feedback!

     Please send letters, drawings, and
             opera reviews to:

           Edmonton Opera
           9720 102 Ave NW
         Edmonton, AB T5J 4B2

         ATTN: Brianna Wells
     Audience Development Manager


         Thanks for your support!


Shared By: