The Met’s James Levine returns to lead Verdi’s comic opera Falstaff Live in HD Dec. 14

Ambrogio Maestri in the title role of a Verdi's "Falstaff."  Royal Opera House Photo: Catherine Ashmore

Ambrogio Maestri in the title role of a Verdi’s “Falstaff.”
Royal Opera House Photo: Catherine Ashmore

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2013 at 12:55 p.m.(EST)
THE MET: LIVE IN HD
FALSTAFF by Giuseppe Verdi
Host: Renée Fleming

Verdi’s brilliant final masterpiece Falstaff, in its first new Met production in 50 years, will be conducted by Met Music Director James Levine in his first HD transmission in nearly two years on Saturday, December 14 at 12:55pm EST. The transmission may be viewed at three Berkshire locations: the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington, the Beacon Cinemas in Pittsfield, and the Clark Art Museum in Williamstown.

James Levine has led an unparalleled 2,447 Met performances over the course of his 42-year Met career, including 55 performances of Falstaff, more than any other conductor in company history. Among the many highlights of his work with the company are the first-ever Met performances of Mozart’s Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito; Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess; Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex; Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani, I Lombardi and Stiffelio; Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny; Schoenberg’s Erwartung and Moses und Aron; Berg’s Lulu; Rossini’s La Cenerentola; and Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, as well as the world premieres of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles and John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby. He returned to the Met after a two-year absence in September 2013 to lead a critically acclaimed revival of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, which he will conduct again this spring in addition to a revival of Berg’s Wozzeck.

Robert Carsen made his Met debut in 1996 with a production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and returned to the Met in 1999 to stage Boito’s Mefistofele. His production of Falstaff premiered to critical acclaim at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden in May 2012 and traveled to La Scala in January 2013. One of the most prolific directors in opera, his productions on view this season include Mefistofele at San Francisco Opera; Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi, Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Handel’s Alcina, and Strauss’s Elektra (Paris Opera); Janáček’s Jenůfa (Aalto Theatre, Essen), From the House of the Dead (Strasbourg Opera), and The Cunning Little Vixen (Opera Lille); Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites (Royal Opera, Covent Garden); Rameau’s Platée (Opéra-Comique, Paris, and Vienna State Opera); Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos (Bavarian State Opera and Munich Festival); Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades (Zurich Opera); Verdi’s La Traviata (Teatro la Fenice, Venice), Rigoletto (La Monnaie, Brussels, and Strasbourg Opera), and Macbeth (Deutsche Oper Berlin); Wagner’s Die Walküre (Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona); and Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady (Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, and Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg).

Ambrogio Maestri in the title role of a Verdi's "Falstaff."  Royal Opera House Photo: Catherine Ashmore

Ambrogio Maestri in the title role of a Verdi’s “Falstaff.”
Royal Opera House Photo: Catherine Ashmore

THE STARS OF FALSTAFF

BOSstarsFalstaff

Ambrogio Maestri sings the iconic basso buffo role of Sir John Falstaff, the boorish, blustery character originally seen in Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Merry Wives of Windsor. Angela Meade is Alice Ford, one of many objects of Falstaff’s affection, and Stephanie Blythe is Mistress Quickly in a cast that also includes Lisette Oropesa as Nannetta, Jennifer Johnson Cano as Meg Page, Paolo Fanale in his Met debut as Fenton, and Franco Vassallo as Ford. The International Herald Tribune praised director Robert Carsen’s staging, first seen at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, as a “production of eye-catching ingenuity.”

Ambrogio Maestri has sung the title role in Falstaff in numerous high-profile productions, including the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and La Scala premieres of Carsen’s staging, as well as performances at the Munich Festival, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Vienna State Opera, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Teatro Regio in Parma, Paris Opera, Zurich Opera, and Salzburg Festival. He made his Met debut as Amonasro in Verdi’s Aida in 2004 and returned in 2006 as Alfio in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. He starred as Dulcamara in the new production of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore that opened the 2012-13 Met season.

Angela Meade recently added the title role in Bellini’s Norma to her Met repertory. She first came to public attention as a winner of the Met’s 2007 National Council Auditions, a competition that was documented in the film The Audition, and sang her first Met performance—as Elvira in Verdi’s Ernani—the following season. Her other roles with the company have included Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore, the title role in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, and the Countess in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. This season’s performances will mark her role debut as Alice Ford.

Lisette Oropesa, a graduate of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, has sung more than 90 performances of 12 roles with the company, including Gilda in Rigoletto; Miranda in the world premiere of the Baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island; the Rhinemaiden Woglinde in Wagner’s Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung; the Dew Fairy in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel; Susanna in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro; Amore in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice; and Lisette in the 2008 new production premiere of Puccini’s La Rondine. She has sung Nannetta with San Francisco Opera and Bilbao Opera.

Stephanie Blythe, also a graduate of the Lindemann program, has sung 27 roles at the Met in a diverse repertory that has included, in recent seasons, Fricka in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen; the Verdi roles of Azucena in Il Trovatore, Amneris in Aida, and Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera; Eduige in Handel’s Rodelinda; Frugola, the Principessa, and Zita in Puccini’s Il Trittico; Ježibaba in Dvořák’s Rusalka; and Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. She has sung Mistress Quickly with Seattle Opera as well as at the Met in 2002 and 2005.

Synopsis of Falstaff

Act I
The Garter Inn. Dr. Caius bursts into Sir John Falstaff’s room in the Garter Inn, accusing him of unseemly behavior the previous night. He further accuses Falstaff’s two henchmen, Bardolph and Pistol, of having robbed him while he was drunk. Unable to obtain reparations, Dr. Caius leaves in a fury. Falstaff contemplates the large bill he has run up at the inn. He informs Bardolph and Pistol that in order to repair his finances he plans to seduce Alice Ford and Meg Page, both wives of prosperous Windsor citizens. When Bardolph and Pistol refuse to deliver the letters Falstaff has written to the two ladies, Falstaff instructs a page to do so instead. He then ridicules Bardolph and Pistol’s newly discovered sense of honor, before throwing them out of his room.

The Garter Inn. Alice Ford and Meg Page laugh over the identical love letters they have received from Sir John Falstaff. They share their amusement with Alice’s daughter Nannetta, and with their friend Mistress Quickly. Ford arrives, followed by four men all proffering advice: Dr. Caius, whom Ford favors as Nannetta’s future husband; Bardolph and Pistol, who are now seeking advantageous employment from Ford; and Fenton, who is in love with Ford’s daughter Nannetta. When Ford learns of Falstaff’s plan to seduce his wife, he immediately becomes jealous. While Alice and Meg plan how to take revenge on their importunate suitor, Ford decides to disguise himself in order to pay a visit to Falstaff. Unnoticed in the midst of all the commotion, Nannetta and Fenton manage to steal a few precious moments together.

Act II
The Garter Inn. Feigning penitence, Bardolph and Pistol rejoin Falstaff’s service. They show in Mistress Quickly, who informs Falstaff that both Alice and Meg are madly in love with him. She explains that it will be easier to seduce Alice, since her husband is out of the house every afternoon, between two and three. Falstaff joyously anticipates his seduction of Alice. Bardolph now announces that a “Mister Brook” (Ford in disguise) wishes to speak to Falstaff. To Falstaff’s surprise, “Brook” offers him wine and money if he will seduce Alice Ford, explaining that he has long been in love with the lady, but to no avail. If she were to be seduced by the more experienced Falstaff, she might then be more likely to fall a second time and accept “Brook.” Falstaff agrees to the plan, telling his surprised new friend that he already has a rendezvous with Alice that very afternoon. As Falstaff leaves to prepare himself, Ford gives way to jealous rage. When Falstaff returns, dressed in his best clothes, the two men exchange compliments before leaving together.

Ford’s house. Mistress Quickly, Alice and Meg are preparing for Falstaff’s visit. Nannetta tearfully tells her mother that her father insists on her marrying Dr. Caius, but Alice tells her daughter not to worry. Falstaff arrives and begins his seduction of Alice, nostalgically boasting of his aristocratic youth as page to the Duke of Norfolk. As Falstaff becomes more amorous, Meg Page interrupts the tête-à-tête, as planned, to announce (in jest) that Ford is approaching. But just at that point Mistress Quickly suddenly returns in a panic to inform Alice that Ford really is on his way, and in a jealous temper. As Ford rushes in with a group of townsfolk, the terrified Falstaff seeks a hiding place, eventually ending up in a large laundry basket. Fenton and Nannetta also hide. Ford and the other men ransack the house. Hearing the sound of kissing, Ford is convinced that he has found his wife and her lover Falstaff together, but is furious to discover Nannetta and Fenton instead. While Ford argues with Fenton, Alice instructs her servants to empty the laundry basket out of the window. To general hilarity, Falstaff is thrown into the River Thames.

Act III
Outside the Garter Inn. A wet and bruised Falstaff laments the wickedness of the world, but soon cheers up with a glass of mulled wine. Mistress Quickly persuades him that Alice was innocent of the unfortunate incident at Ford’s house. To prove that Alice still loves him, she proposes a new rendezvous that night in Windsor Great Park. In a letter that Quickly gives to Falstaff, Alice asks the knight to appear at midnight, disguised as the Black Huntsman. Ford, Nannetta, Meg, and Alice prepare the second part of their plot: Nannetta will be Queen of the Fairies and the others, also in disguise, will help to continue Falstaff’s punishment. Ford secretly promises Caius that he will marry Nannetta that evening. Mistress Quickly overhears them.

Windsor Great Park. As Fenton and Nannetta are reunited, Alice explains her plan to trick Ford into marrying them. They all hide as Falstaff approaches. On the stroke of midnight, Alice appears. She declares her love for Falstaff, but suddenly runs away, saying that she hears spirits approaching. Nannetta, disguised as the Queen of the Fairies, summons her followers who attack the terrified Falstaff, pinching and poking him until he promises to give up his dissolute ways. In the midst of the assault Falstaff suddenly recognizes Bardolph, and realizes that he has been tricked. While Ford explains that he was “Brook,” Quickly scolds Falstaff for his attempts at seducing two younger, virtuous women. Falstaff accepts that he has been made a figure of fun, but points out that he remains the real source of wit in others. Dr. Caius now comes forward with a figure in white. They are to be married by Ford. Alice brings forward another couple, who also receive Ford’s blessing. When the brides remove their veils it is revealed that Ford has just married Fenton to Nannetta, and Dr. Caius to Bardolph. With everyone now laughing at his expense, Ford has no choice but to forgive the lovers and bless their marriage. Before sitting down to a wedding supper with Sir John Falstaff, the entire company agrees that the whole world may be nothing but a jest filled with jesters, but he who laughs last, laughs best. —Robert Carsen

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