Fort Worth — Texas Christian University’s opera department takes on the immense challenge of staging one of Verdi’s last masterpieces, Falstaff, this weekend. Verdi’s clever libretto was written by Arrigo Boito, a fine composer in his own right, and is based on scenes from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and the Falstaff scenes in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. Falstaff is probably one of the most memorable characters ever created and this Verdi/Boito concoction offers one of the most vivid portrayals of this lovable scoundrel you will ever experience.
FYI: It’s a popular opera right now, as the Dallas Opera will take on this same endeavor April 26-May 4. (I will deliver the pre-opera talks for the Dallas production.)
We chatted with distinguished stage director David Gately about the TCU production.
TheaterJones: Falstaff is a real challenge, isn’t it?
David Gately: I have done it five or six times in my career. It is always a huge endeavor but I like to take on big challenges.
How did this one come together?
This being a university program, you never quite know who will be there to audition. I wait to do my final planning until the first day of school when we hold auditions. Then, I know who I have and can begin to plan around that. This year, 35 singers auditioned.
What is the grade range of the chosen singers?
We have three grad students and a variety of upper and underclass students. Some are double, even triple cast. I gave the chance to sing this masterpiece to everyone I thought could do it.
[A note: The production also features Assistant Professor of Voice and Voice Pedagogy Dr. James Rodriguez in the title role, as well as eight Artist Diploma and Fort Worth Opera Hattie Mae Lesley Apprentice artists. Tyson Deaton will conduct.]
Falstaff is as difficult for orchestra as it is for the singers.
It is an astounding challenge for them and it is remarkable to hear a student orchestra do such a fine job and it is a critical part of the whole. This opera is like a puzzle. You do this piece, then this one, and then put it all together.
And how does that happen?
Well, the staging is fun and it is a great libretto—no fat in it at all. There certainly is a lot of complexity in the music but it is all a part of making the drama come alive. One unique aspect of a college production is that all repertoire is new to them. Thus, Mozart’s [The Marriage of] Figaro is as new to them as Falstaff, unless less they have done it already somewhere else.
One of the big challenges of this score is the great fugue that makes up the finale.
Absolutely. However, the fugue is the most fun of the entire performance. True that it is incredibly difficult music and the singers still need to be in character but it is a celebration. The drama is over; life is a kick, so just enjoy it.
And that is great advice for the audience as well.