Premiere FALSTAFF Verdi-Shakespeare TrilogyGiuseppe Verdi
Three of Verdi’s operas, the two last ones, Otello and Falstaff, and Macbeth from the early phase (revised later) are not intentionally connected to be a trilogy, neither are they by their theme. However, at least one connection is so significant for them that it is worth staging and performing them in a sequence, exploring also what else they have in common besides the pattern for their librettos. Apart from William Shakespeare, his tragedies Macbeth and Othello, the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from the historic drama in two part Henry IV, the Rijeka Opera accepts the challenge avoided by many of the incomparably much more powerful opera houses regarding the production, namely, in one season, and moreover, in the period of three weeks, to perform all of the three Verdi’s operas created after Shakespeare’s plays, namely, to stage the premiere of Macbeth, the revival of Otello and the premiere of Falstaff. All the three operas will be connected by another challenge, the one by Giorgio Surian to appear in leading roles of all the three operas, that is, for the first time as Macbeth, then as Iago, the role in which he was brilliant in Otello the last season, also as a superb Falstaff, having won the stages throughout Europe with this role. Alongside Giorgio Surian, the Verdi – Shakespeare Trilogy will feature the Rijeka Opera team led by Kristina Kolar, Anamarija Knego, Ivana Srbljan, Vanja Zelčić, Robert Kolar, Slavko Sekulić, Marko Fortunato, as well as unavoidable guests as Luis Chapa and Aljaž Farasin. Three conductors will conduct the trilogy, namely, Marco Boemi (Macbeth), Zoran Juranić (Otello) and Ville Matvejeff (Falstaff).
When we think of the three Verdi’s operas based on Shakespeare’s plays, what immediately comes to our mind are characters of Shakespeare’s plays together with their temptations, moral issues and fears.
However, the Trilogy itself primarily reveals Verdi’s genius in his development as a composer and a man always ready with the ace up his sleeve. Thus, in Macbeth for instance, contrary to the Italian operatic tradition of his times, Verdi demands “not just singers, but actors, interpreters aware that they are singing of a drama of other human beings”.
Otello goes beyond all Verdi’s works written until then, in the direction of gesamtkunstweka (the author himself having corrected the libretto in the minutest detail). It is also in this opera that Verdi is fascinated by a demonic character – Iago, insisting here as well on declamation an,d expression.
When, after Otello, the eighty-year-old Verdi was glorified and praised (It’s impossible to end better), he found a way to surprise all with his genius; with Falstaff, he turned all the existing canons upside down (especially his own). Although comical, this is not an opera of Rossini’s comic, simple jokes and open laughter. The joke in Falstaff is ironic, heavy and shrouded in the melancholy of the elderly Verdi.
The last ace from his sleeve Verdi takes out in the last number of the last opera – the fugue Tutto nel mondo è burla, remaining Verdi’s testament to the whole of operatic world.
Not in any of Verdi’s operas are the text and music in a greater symbiosis than it is in these three. As between Macbeth and Otello there are almost forty years, it is easy to conclude that Shakespeare’s texts succeeded in bringing out the best of Verdi.
The Rijeka Opera was bold enough to challenge what opera houses with an infinitely more powerful production avoid, namely, to stage in one season, indeed, in a little more than three weeks, all the three Verdi’s operas created after Shakespeare’s plays; the tragedies Macbeth and Othello, and the comedy the Merry Wives of Windsor with scenes from the two-part history drama Henry IV.
Dramaturgy of perception
All the three opera productions in our Trilogy, although not shrinking from the image, spectacle and impression, primarily emerge from a dramaturgical perspective; namely, they do not shrink from the interpretations that assume the right to intervene in dramatic situations and open perspectives of their different, yet, definitely critical reading.
The three operas of the Rijeka Trilogy are connected by the historic challenge of Giorgio Surian to sing the three lead roles and perform them one after another in three weeks, Macbeth, Iago and Falstaff.
If you would like to understand what Gavella could have meant by the concept of an ideal acting personality – watch and study each look and gesture of Giorgio Surian. If asking yourself what it could have been like to experience the performance of Maria Callas, the artist who revolutionised the opera performance with regard to acting and singing, watch and study Giorgio Surian for his answer.
Dedication to female gender
Lady Macbeth performed by Kristina Kolar is not just a demonic woman in the projection of the fragile male mind that perfidiously psychoanalyses her. She is the power that propels history, aware of her guilt from the very beginning, also the inevitable end in the millstone of historical mechanism.
Emilia performed in our Trilogy by Ivana Srbljan is more than a subordinate character, capturing the dramaturgical role that is more significant than that of Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s lady-in-waiting. She is the signpost for a feministic reading of the opera on Otello, that is, Desdemona, her sincerity, gesture of resistance and death by the hand of the brute. Is it that at least Emilia could survive in the world that reduces the woman to the function of reproducing species and the nation, the object within the wish of the other sex and a collateral victim on the war games of husbands, fathers and siblings? The performance of Anamarija Knego in the role of Desdemona is a warning that – she has to!
The four wives of Windsor, Anamarija Knego as Alice, Biljana Kovač as Quickly, Vanja Zelčić as Nanetta and Ivana Srbljan as Meg, represent neither the power nor victims. They are women who take control over their rights, doing so despite all those who contest these rights,
All the three operas, at least in the Rijeka staging, although bearing names of male lead characters in their titles, are dedicated to the female gender, determination and – activism.
The practice of performing an opera and its public representation are achieved through a deep and complex cooperation of numerous performing and working collectives. Beside that which is visible to the audience, the performance of an opera staging is possible owing to the invisible work of a number of those on stage or beyond it; in the process of work on the performance, but also during the performance itself. In other words, the performance of an opera in the formal sense can also be seen as the performing of a community. The Verdi – Shakespeare Trilogy in that sense, actually in the choreographic work with the opera corpus – is trying to expand the perspective for performing collectiveness in and through the operatic medium.
Thus, working on Otello, it was important to dislocate the function of the ballet ensemble from the row of the moving decor towards the conceptual, choreographic and, regarding the performing, equal performing collective in the operatic performance. Dislocating the chorus ensemble into the auditorium space, the ballet ensemble takes over the role of the performing extension of opera singers – soloists on the stage, bodily multiplying them. In Macbeth, the task was to work out the minimalist performing-choreographic parkour for the chorus in order to emphasise the coherency of the corpus, that is, to encourage the sovereign performing of the collective, while in Falstaff, by establishing individual body codes (and a specific quality of movement) the task was to work on connecting singers-soloists into a singing and performing ensemble.