Ambrogio Maestri has the title role and Stephanie Blythe plays Mrs. Quickly in Verdi’s ‘Falstaff.’
A lovable knight is having a new day.
Starting Friday, Verdi’s comic masterpiece, “Falstaff,” gets its first Metropolitan Opera production since 1964, with James Levine wielding the baton and rubber-faced Ambrogio Maestri in the blustery title role.
Toronto-born director Robert Carsen’s vision of the 1893 opera — drawn from Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Henry IV” — replaces Franco Zeffirelli’s 49-year-old production known for sumptuous sets and costumes that evoke the Elizabethan era.
Elizabeth I, of course.
But a new age deserves a new “Falstaff” — and Carsen sets the humorous tale of gold-digging and stumblebum seduction squarely in the 1950s.
So now it’s in Elizabeth II territory.
Ambrogio Maestri in ‘Falstaff’
The production, which hits the storied Met stage following runs at the Royal Opera House in London and La Scala in Milan, looks every bit the postwar era. Scenes are set in a posh wood-paneled hunt club and a home that gleams with Formica.
The visual contrast underscores one of timeless themes of the opera: “new money versus old savoir-faire,” as Carsen describes it.
At the center of this comic satire of wine, women and song (and a horse, which gets a cameo) is the plus-sized and overindulged Sir John. His attempts to seduce not one, but two, married women in the name of money get the story going.
“It’s an absurd attempt,” says Carsen.
And Verdi’s affectionate attitude toward Falstaff suggests that the character is in on the joke.
“Falstaff” isn’t over until the fat man laughs.