The Opera de Montréal is celebrating the 200th birthday of a giant of the opera world – Giuseppe Verdi – with the presentation of his final masterpiece: the “commedia lirica” Falstaff. Composed when Verdi was almost 80 years old, Falstaff is nevertheless a powerfully youthful work that brings a swirling farce to life, with each little sparkle highlighting the colourful words of the great Shakespeare!

This masterpiece features a top-flight cast. In the title role, Oleg Bryjak, making his company debut; the irresistible Mrs. Quickly will be sung by today’s greatest performer of the role: Quebec contralto Marie Nicole Lemieux, returning to the company in this role for which she has won acclaim in major houses around the world (Opéra de Paris, La Scala in Milan, Covent Garden in London). And a whole cast of some of the best Canadian and Quebec singers: Gianna Corbisiero (Mrs. Alice Ford); Lauren Segal (Mrs. Meg Page); Aline Kutan (Nannetta); Gregory Dahl (Ford); Antonio Figueroa (Fenton); Gaétan Sauvageau (Dr. Cajus); Jean-Michel Richer* (Bardolfo); and Ernesto Morillo (Pistola).
*Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal

Internationally renowned Italian conductor Daniele Callegari leads the Orchestre Métropolitain and the Opéra de Montréal Chorus (prepared by Claude Webster). The stage director is David Gately, whose western version of Don Pasquale delighted audiences here; sets are by John Conklin, revamped here by Olivier Landreville, and lit by Éric W. Champoux.

Old, pot-bellied Sir John Falstaff, realizing that his finances are at a record low, decides to set his sights on two beautiful and rich women. Confident of his charms, he sends each woman a love letter—in fact, he sends out two completely identical missives! The merry wives of Windsor figure out the plot and begin to plan their revenge. The presumptuous seducer is put through the wringer: hidden in a clothes hamper, thrown into the Thames, and led into a nocturnal trap in the middle of the Windsor Park, where he is robbed, teased, snubbed, thrashed, and rolled in the dirt… Despite the utter humiliation, Sir John Falstaff nevertheless gets the last laugh, proclaiming that “Everything in the world a jest!”

Verdi was in the twilight of his years when he began composing a final work that would quickly go on to be considered his absolute masterpiece: Falstaff. The idea came from librettist Arrigo Boito who managed to lead Verdi back to composing after having worked with him on an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello a few years earlier, and seeing the work triumph at its premiere in 1887. As one of Verdi’s favourite writers, “The Great Will” was often in his thoughts, from the Macbeth he composed at the beginning of his career to a King Lear he long dreamt of writing but which never came to fruition.

Boito therefore came back with a new libretto inspired by two of Shakespeare’s plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV, featuring the swaggering and irreverent Sir John Falstaff, a heavy drinker and inveterate seducer. He made his first appearance, bringing a touch of humour to the drama, in Henry IV. The character proved so popular that Shakespeare wrote another play featuring “the immense Sir John, with his enormous belly; that smasher of beds, breaker of chairs, exhauster of mules, that skin of sweet wine, that moving lump of lard,” as Boito described him. He added: “There is only one better way to bring one’s oeuvre to an end than with Otello, and that is to do so victoriously with Falstaff.”

Verdi identified with Falstaff, old but still full of life, funny yet tender, capable of overcoming endless difficulties. He gave it his all, taking his time (the composition took five years), free of all constraints, without any obligation, for the sheer pleasure of composing it. Once the work was complete, Verdi brought it to the stage with maniacal care, obsessing over the smallest details of the stage direction and the choice of performers. On opening night, audience enthusiasm was such that the final applause lasted a half-hour. The work was immediately hailed as an absolute masterpiece, going on to conquer the world in the following months: Vienna, Berlin, Paris, London and other major European cities.

For his last hurrah, Verdi completely reinvented the musical comedy genre, displaying scintillating eloquence with each bar. Falstaff’s music flows like a gushing spring that cannot stop or turn back. It is a true musical conversation in which the arias are, strictly speaking, few and short, with a few particular surges of lyricism by the two lovers, Nanetta and Fenton. The orchestra is tremendously inventive, each page of the score chock-full of incredible, almost modern sounds. The opera ends in a harmonious and joyful cacophony (A fugue! A genre usually associated with church music), to state that “everything in the world a jest.”

Preceding each performance, a pre-Opera talk: musicologist and opera fan Pierre Vachon (Ph.D.) discusses the work, in the Piano Nobile in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at 6:30 pm (in French with a summary in English). Free for subscribers, $5 for non-subscribers.

Falstaff will be presented at Place des Arts’ Salle Wilfrid Pelletier November 9, 12, 14 and 16 at 7:30pm.
For tickets please call: Opera de Montreal box office: 514-985-2258,
Place des Arts at 514-842-2112 or

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