Verdi wrote Falstaff, which was the last of his 28 operas, as he was approaching the age of 80. It was his second comedy, and his third work based on a Shakespeare play, following Macbeth and Otello. The plot revolves around the thwarted, sometimes farcical, efforts of the fat knight, Sir John Falstaff, to seduce two married women to gain access to their husbands' wealth.
Verdi was concerned about working on a new opera at his advanced age, but he yearned to write a comic work and was pleased with Boito's draft libretto. It took the collaborators three years from mid-1889 to complete. Although the prospect of a new opera from Verdi aroused immense interest in Italy and around the world, Falstaff did not prove to be as popular as earlier works in the composer's canon. After the initial performances in Italy, other European countries and the US, the work was neglected until the conductor Arturo Toscanini insisted on its revival at La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera in New York from the late 1890s into the next century. Some felt that the piece suffered from a lack of the full-blooded melodies of the best of Verdi's previous operas, a view strongly contradicted by Toscanini. Conductors of the generation after Toscanini to champion the work included Herbert von Karajan, Georg Solti and Leonard Bernstein. The work is now part of the regular operatic repertory.
Sir John Falstaff - Tito Gobbi
Fenton - Luigi Alva
Ford - Rolando Panerai
Alice Ford - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
Nannetta - Anna Moffo
Meg Page - Nana Merriman
Mistress Quickly - Fedora Barbieri
Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus
Herbert von Karajan - conductor
EMI - 1957