Hes one of the greatest literary characters of all time. Falstaff is physically huge, stunningly amoral and outrageously funny. Hes a lecher, a glutton, a coward and a thief. And though he lies to the world, he is incredibly honest with himself, and that is his most redeeming quality.
He is remarkably human, says baritone Peter Castaldi, who will bring the character to life this weekend as Opera Idaho opens its season with Verdis comedy Falstaff.
He is full of defects and we love him for it, Castaldi says. He represents a sense of irony and truth. Verdi wrote this near the end of his life and it is very philosophical. As Falstaff gets older and wiser, he knows less. That leads us to the last line of the opera that all the world is a joke.
A creation of William Shakespeare, Falstaff appears in Henry IV, Part I and Part II and The Merry Wives of Windsor, which inspired Verdis opera.
In the Henry plays, Falstaff is a larger-than-life presence, a shrewd courtier and funny.
He acts as a symbol of the corruption and indulgence in the court. As young Prince Hal tries to decide what kind of king he will become, he rejects Falstaff.
A well-loved character, Falstaff also inspired a symphony by Elgar and operas by Antonio Salieri, Otto Nicolai and Vaughan Williams.
Shakespeare wrote him into Merry Wives at the request of Queen Elizabeth I, who wanted him to recast Falstaff after a courtier Sir John Oldcastle, says Castaldi, who knows this character very well. This will be his third performance of Falstaff.
The story goes that he (Oldcastle) was this big guy who could move really well, and he was funny. She loved this guy and wanted him to be brought to life by her playwright.
In Merry Wives, Falstaff is a lighter-weight version of himself, more of a buffoon, easily fooled and yet still very funny, as he tries to seduce two married women to get their husbands money.
Verdis Falstaff follows the same outline. But dont think this is an adaptation of Shakespeares play. Verdi makes Falstaff the central figure, and hes very Italian, Castaldi says.
This Falstaff is older, probably the oldest guy in town who is still walking and dancing around, Castaldi says. But he doesnt flirt well anymore, he doesnt steal well anymore and even though his view of himself doesnt match the worlds view of him, he is happy with himself.
Like many Italians in his day, Verdi loved Shakespeare, as much as The Bard also loved and was influenced by Italy. Many of his plays were set in Italy and sometimes based on Italian stories. (In fact, there is one theory, held by those who dont believe Shakespeare was Shakespeare, that he was an Italian playwright.)
Verdi also wrote operas based on Macbeth and Othello. But Verdi never read Shakespeares actual plays. Instead he relied on Italian translations that werent the best, Castaldi says. In turn, Arrigo Boito, who wrote the libretto for Falstaff, read only the Victor Hugo translations in French.
So the distance between the original and the translations gave Verdi and Boito the freedom to create their own interpretation of the story, which brings this character to life with wonderful music and rich language.
Its just filled with these incredible words and wordplay, puns and obscure words that are just a hoot, Castaldi says.
As in Merry Wives, this Falstaff is ruled by women and his passion for them.
The womens big goal in this opera is to have fun and teach the men in their lives as gently but firmly as possible who is in charge from the beginning to the end, says lyric soprano Leslie Mauldin, who plays Alice Ford.
To better his fortunes, Falstaff sends the same love letter to two married women, Ford and Meg Page (soprano Tiffany Calas), in hopes that one of them will becomes his benefactress. The women quickly figure out his ruse, then set him up for a few elaborate tricks but all in good fun. They save a good one for Master Ford (Jason Detwiler), who is taken to task for his jealousy.
In the end, everyone takes it in stride and all is forgiven. Falstaff leads the company in declaring the world is but a jest.
I think they all go out to dinner afterwards, Castaldi says. Thats the Italian way.