[Met Performance] CID:14660
Falstaff {8} The Auditorium, Chicago, Illinois: 03/14/1895.


Chicago, Illinois
The Auditorium
March 14, 1895

Giuseppe Verdi--Arrigo Boito

Sir John Falstaff.......Victor Maurel
Alice Ford..............Emma Eames
Ford....................Giuseppe Campanari
Dame Quickly............Sofia Scalchi
Nannetta................Zélie de Lussan
Fenton..................Giuseppe Russitano
Meg Page................Jane De Vigne
Dr. Cajus...............Roberto Vanni
Bardolfo................Antonio Rinaldini
Pistola.................Alfonso Mariani

Conductor...............Luigi Mancinelli

Review of Willa Cather in the Journal dated 03/31/1895

To be present at the fourth American presentation of Verdi's "Falstaff" was more than a pleasure; it was a privilege and a great opportunity. There is something especially wonderful and sacred about any great masterpiece in its first youth, before its romanzas have become street music, before the concoctors of comic opera have stolen the choruses, while it is played by the first cast, and the ink of the score is scarcely dry. Something of the very personality of the composer seems to cling to it. Its bloom, its freshness, the wonderful charm of its novelty, even the slight uncertainty with which some of the principals carry their parts, all emphasize that one is witnessing an absolutely new creation, a new work that did not exist yesterday, that has been called up out of nothingness and that henceforth will be a part of the art of the world. On such an occasion one feels dimly what it must be to create, to dream and to send out of one's dreams golden song that shall be immortal.

As to the opera "Falstaff," itself, it seems almost as wonderful that it should have come from Verdi as it is impossible that it should have come from any other man living. The greatness, the titanic comprehensiveness of the work is Verdi's own, but the central motif, the clever elaboration of the orchestration, the wonderful handling of his thematic matter, the decided flavor of the "opera comique" separate it from Verdi's earlier work by all the length and breadth that lies between rollicking comedy and fervid romance. "Falstaff" has none of the rich arias and beautiful romanzas which abound in "Il Trovatore," "Aida," and "La Traviata." With, perhaps, the exception of Oberon's song in the scene in Windsor Forest, there are no airs in the opera that will ever be garnered into "Treasuries of Song" and other popular collections. The whole composition is as difficult as it is beautiful and is less in the florid Italian style than any other of Verdi's works. Instead of largely consisting of the lengthy solos so pronounced in "II Trovatore" and even in "Aida" and "Otello," the dialogue is short and choppy; made up of one line recitations and caught up rapidly by the singers. This, of course, makes the opera exceedingly difficult and indeed Mme. Eames and Mlle. Zélie de Lussan several times forgot their lines and it took all Mme. Scalchi's colossal repose and self-composure to save the day. In Verdi's youth he was accused of light and superficial orchestration, but certainly his last opera, a crowning glory in more senses than one, once and forever refutes that charge. It is a wonder, a marvel, a miracle of clever orchestration. Beside the wonderful beauty of the central themes and the still more wonderful management of them there are a hundred little things, like the prodigious sigh of satisfaction among the wind instruments every time Falstaff lifts his cup of sack to his lips, the lively crescendo when fat Sir John is dumped into the moat, the monotonous mezzo forte of the orchestra as Falstaff runs over the items of his bill at Garter Inn and then, when he reaches the total, suddenly forte! The second part of the third act opens with some of the most beautiful lyric music Verdi ever wrote, music breathing all the witchery of a summer night, of moonbeams and uncertain shadows, of fairy festivals and of elfin trumpeters. And then those rare mellow strains of which the opera is full, now racy, snappy and piquant as one of Sir John's jests which were best not told before ladies. Now blood-stirring, amorous to grotesqueness, with a sort of yearning sensuousness like the naughty dreams which flitted through the fat knight's tipsy slumber. Tantalizing strains of reeling, sweeping sweetness that were rudely broken off before they were half begun, that pleased and excited and irritated and went to one's head like champagne, and over and over again came that royal laughter of the king of jolly good fellows; now crashing out of the whole orchestra, now picked lightly upon the strings amid the chatter of women, now sighing from the wind instruments in the summer breezes of Windsor Forest, now chuckling in the bellies of the big bassoons, repeated in every kind and degree of mirth, the ribald laughter of Sir Jack Falstaff.

And of M. Victor Maurel, who created the role of the rotund knight, who only a few months ago took the great character from the hands of the aged master and breathed into it the breath of life, what shall be said of him than the world has not already said in the richest euphuism of all the languages of Europe? It was years ago that Victor Maurel passed beyond the pale of criticism, that he rose like some star sweeping to its zenith to those still glittering heights where men are not criticized, where they simply do and teach the world. Of Maurel's singing there is little need to speak; he sings as the greatest baritone in the world should sing. But of Maurel, the actor, it is never too late to speak, the critics of the stage have not told all of it yet, though they have written and talked of little else for thirty years. Most of the people who took the trouble to hear "Falstaff" in Chicago had seen the character enacted, had seen coarse Falstaffs, jolly Falstaffs, flippant Falstaffs and bestial Falstaffs. But never Falstaff was seen like this. There was a grand and convincing sincerity and reality about the levity and pompousness and amorousness and gigantic vanity of Maurel's knight that made hint altogether different and individual. He was not a burlesque on bad men nor a travesty on gay men, but a real man and a fat man withal. His heart is as big as his stomach and his conceit as great as his heart. When he sings snatches of old love songs and spins his ponderous frame about like a waltzing elephant he looks as though he could take the whole world in his arms, as though he wished all the wine in the world were in one flagon that he might drink it, all womankind had but one mouth that he might kiss it. Cups and petticoats are perfectly serious matters to him. Next to his unlimited capacity for the alliterative duo of wickedness that begins with W, the most amazing thing about him was his boundless, gigantic vanity. The enormous self-complacency with which he attires himself for the conquest of Mrs. Ford, the assurance with which he strokes his huge bulk while saying, "She is enamored of my parts," are memories to laugh over by the winter firelight. M. Maurel's explicit detail and fearless realism cannot be too greatly admired. His make-up is a thing thoroughly artistic. How he can sing with his chest, arms and legs encumbered by that huge bulk of padding no one knows, but his disguise does not stay there. He distends and flattens his nostrils, wears plumpers in his cheeks, wears bushy eyebrows and discolors his teeth. The make-up of his hands is as carefully studied as that of his face. When he chases Mrs. Ford about the stage with his great arms outstretched, his fat, red fingers tremble and clutch the air in a manner realistic almost to disgust. M. Maurel has carefully studied all the physical
disadvantages of extreme corpulency. When he tries to beat Bardolph and Pistol with a broom he only succeeds in knocking his own fat sides. When in the woods he tries to trip and throw Mrs. Ford he only tumbles over his cloak which has become entangled about his feet that he never sees by reason of his mighty paunch. M. Victor Maurel's Falstaff is more than a great operatic triumph, it is a great Shakespearean creation. Higher praise than that there is none.

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