A Minute With: Opera director Robert Carsen on the Met's 'Falstaff'

Thu Dec 5, 2013 12:18pm EST
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By Ellen Freilich

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Metropolitan Opera will stage its first new production of Giuseppe Verdi's comic opera "Falstaff" in nearly 50 years on Friday and transmit a live performance next week to 2,000 movie theaters in 64 countries.

Canadian opera director Robert Carsen has set the production, which will be conducted by music director James Levine and feature Ambrogio Maestri in the title role, in 1950s England. The December 14 performance will be shown around the globe.

Carsen, whose production of the opera premiered to critical acclaim in London in 2012 and in Milan in 2013 to mark the 200th anniversary of Verdi's birthday, spoke to Reuters about the work, its relevance to audiences and the character of Sir John Falstaff.

Q: Does "Falstaff" hold a special appeal for a stage director?

A. Oh, yes, of course, because Verdi's "Falstaff" is one of the greatest operas ever written and Falstaff is one of the greatest characters ever invented. (Italian composer) Arrigo Boito's libretto is a fantastic achievement in the astonishing way he wove Falstaff together from Shakespeare's plays so that the character was based on Shakespeare, but still completely his own.

Q. Correspondence between Verdi and Boito shows that Boito proposed the project to Verdi when the composer was almost 77 years old and Verdi had some doubts about whether to do it.

A. Yes, Verdi and Boito had just had this marvelous success with "Othello" which had premiered at La Scala in February 1887. It was also very brave of Verdi to compose "Falstaff" in a musical style and language and energy that he had never used in his life before.

I can't think of another composer who did something so completely different from his previous work at the end of his life. "Falstaff" was really a radical departure. The music is so astonishing and so text-based and so full of wit and humor and wisdom. Of all of Verdi's operas, "Falstaff" is probably the one most popular with conductors and I have great, great affection for it.   Continued...

A scene from Verdi's "Falstaff" with Ambrogio Maestri (standing center) in the title role. REUTERS/Ken Howard