Skip to main content

Larger Than Life ‘Falstaff’ Takes Center Stage At San Diego Opera

Verdi’s opera looks to Shakespeare’s plays for inspiration

San Diego Opera Brings ‘Falstaff’ To Life

We're sorry. This audio clip is no longer available. A transcript has been made available.

William Shakespeare's character of Sir John Falstaff had a larger than life presence in the "Henry IV" historical plays and in the comedy "The Merry Wives of Windsor." Those plays provide the inspiration for Verdi's opera "Falstaff" that San Diego Opera premieres Feb. 18 at the Civic Theatre.

William Shakespeare's character of Sir John Falstaff had a larger than life presence in the "Henry IV" historical plays and in the comedy "The Merry Wives of Windsor." Those plays provide the inspiration for Verdi's opera "Falstaff" that San Diego Opera premieres Feb. 18 at the Civic Theatre.

Sir John Falstaff is a man with a large appetite for food, women and wine. But this carnal being suddenly finds himself broke, so he conceives a plan to woo a pair of married women to get his hands on their wealthy husbands’ purse strings. But the women find him out and make merry with poor Sir John.

Edith Frampton is on the faculty in English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. She said although Shakespeare conceived his character more than four centuries ago, the play still has a lot to say to a contemporary audience.

"This is a play where you have women taking on a powerful activist role," Frampton said.

"It is a comedy, but it has a subversive message underneath, and it has one of the most astonishing characters in the literary canon, Falstaff, which is the appeal of what led to this opera," she said. "It’s about women who decide to take matters into their own hands and beat a large, manipulative man at his own game, a member of the upper crust of society who needs some money, who tries to trick them, but they trick him at his own game."

This production of "Falstaff" brings the opera to life with a versatile set that opens, expands and reveals nooks and crannies as needed to support the farcical behavior of its title character.

Photo caption: Sir John Falstaff (Italian Baritone Roberto de Candia) prepares to woo some l...

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Sir John Falstaff (Italian Baritone Roberto de Candia) prepares to woo some ladies in San Diego Opera's production of Verdi's "Falstaff."

"The main character, of course, is Falstaff, but there is another character, which for me is more important, and that is life itself," said Olivier Tambosi, the opera's director. "So the opera is about vitality from the first measures of the orchestra. This is an opera about being happy right here, right now. It’s an opera where you feel the simple things of life like drinking a glass of red wine and a piece of cheese and feeling the sunbeams on your skin and feeling yourself alive."

Frampton pointed out that although the women create a lot of comic chaos during the play and make Sir John the butt of their jokes, "at the end, they bring the whole community together, and everyone forgives Falstaff for all of his faults, partly because in spite of the fact that he’s greedy and manipulative, he can be incredibly charming at the same time. So it is a celebration of life that we get through the character of Falstaff."

Tambosi agreed.

"We all love Falstaff as evil and childish as he is, everybody loves him. Opera would be so much poorer without him," Tambosi said.

San Diego Opera's "Falstaff" opens Saturday and has additional performances on Feb. 21, 24 and 26.

FEATURED PODCAST

San Diego News Matters podcast branding

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.