Scottish Opera: Falstaff
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 13, Thu 15, Sat 17, Wed 21 & Sat 24 May; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 18, Sat 21, Thu 26 & Sat 28 Jun
Long before any government directives on obesity, Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff knew all about the challenges of being overweight. Tricked, for their own amusement, by the merry wives of Windsor, he is ridiculed, thrown into the Thames in an extra-large laundry basket and, finally, subjected to humiliation by the whole town. Perfect material for Shakespearean comedy and just right for an opera or two.
Salieri, Nicolai and Vaughan Williams have all turned to Falstaff for inspiration, but it is Verdi’s version, his last opera, that Scottish Opera have chosen for a new production directed by Dominic Hill. It is, of course, not just because Falstaff is fat that such an unfortunate fate befalls him. He is an egotistical buffoon who needs to be taught a lesson. ‘It’s a fantastic piece,’ says Hill, who is one of Scotland’s leading theatre directors, but making his debut with full scale opera. ‘It has energy, joy and is a celebration of life, although its moments of profundity and reflection come through strongly too.’
While the play was written in the late 1500s, Verdi’s music is from 300 years later. ‘It is very much of the 19th century, so we have set it when it was written, with what we hope is a gutsy, earthy feel,’ says Hill. Its themes, however, could be of anytime. ‘I think the things it’s about are completely universal and timeless in terms of human behaviour.’
Examining two main themes of the time, namely the emergence of the middle class and the liberation of women, Hill’s Falstaff is also a celebration. ‘It was a time when women were liberated from the drudgery of endless childbirth and found for the first time some sort of independence. We are emphasising their sassiness, sexiness and wit in contrast with the absolutely ludicrous way men behave. They are smart, fun-loving and much more intelligent.’ Now, what was that earlier comment about timeless human behaviour?