Friday, October 25, 2013

Terfel's Falstaff

You know I'm not a serious opera fan because I've seen only one performance of Bryn Terfel in Verdi's Fallstaff.  Not the three, or five, or ten, or 100, which may be the gold standard for the real fans.  I am thus unable to confirm that the new version at the San Francisco Opera (which we saw last night) is, as represented, more somber and correspondingly less comical than some of its predecessors.  I'm sorry I haven't, though.  Terfel is an appealing, engaging, accessible singer by any standard and if last night's performance is any evidence (and it probably is) then a whole catalog of Terfel Falstaffs would be great fun indeed.

A couple of other loose ends about Falstaff: One, it occurs to me that maybe this is an opera more fun for the singers than the audience.  Or at best, it needs an audience with pretty strong musical chops.  I guess I've written before that it was, ironically, the first opera I ever saw--and I was told I probably wouldn't get it and I didn't get it.  I've seen it several times since and I've come to enjoy it and I think I have some sense of what it is about. But my own musicianship never gets above the sing-in-the-shower level and I suspect that there is stuff I will  never appreciate as well as someone who, say, sings every day for money, and once in a while gets a chance really to blow it out with this masterwork.

Related point: I think there is a sense on which Verdi's Falstaff bears comparison with Shakespeare's Hamlet.  No, no, bear with me for a moment.  In Hamlet, Shakespeare tells us everything he knows about theatre, everything he has learned in his entire career.  So with Falstaff and Verdi and opera.  The notable difference is, of course, that Shakespeare was in his 40s when he wrote Hamlet; he'd been in the game for a dozen year to so and had perhaps a dozen more to go (is that all?  Yes!).  Verdi, of course, was in his 80s, with his entire life to look back on.

And one more: people always talk about Falstaff as a comedy.  I suppose it is as a sense: it is also, at best, rather mean-spirited, unkind.  And has anybody noticed that it is a "comedy" mocking as a foolish old man, written by, yes, another old man?


Anonymous said...

Few singers can charm and engage audiences like Terfel. The problem is that he shouts out his roles. I don't think he's produced a pitch in years. Too bad - early in his career he sang!

Buce said...

He wasn't that loud last night. And I'll give him this: his diction was bang on. I was a long way back and I could understand more individual Italian words than in any other opera I ever sat through.