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Giuseppe Verdi's 'Falstaff'

Have you ever been disappointed by the film version of a favorite novel? Ever stayed away from movies or plays based on stories from any other medium because experience tells you that sort of transition is almost never successful? If so, who could blame you?

Adapting any work of art to another genre is tricky business, and it seems the better the original the harder it is to transform it. When it's tried with true masterpieces, maybe there are so many variables, egos and expectations involved that the whole mess just gums up the works.

In the case of Giuseppe Verdi, however, the phenomenon simply validates his genius. Historically, the plays of Shakespeare have been particularly difficult to translate into opera. All manner of composers have tried it, resulting in some 300 Shakespeare-based operas. Remarkably, only a half-dozen or so – about 2 percent – have even paid a visit to the standard repertory. Even more remarkably, Verdi wrote thee of those: Macbeth, Otello, and Falstaff.

In Falstaff, the title character is running out of money and looking for a quick fix. So he sets his sights on two rich women, and writes them love letters. But he doesn't fool anyone, and ultimately the "fat Knight" learns his lesson.

Written when Verdi was nearly 80, the opera sparkles with freshness and originality, proving that the master never even came close to losing his touch. In fact, with Falstaff, Verdi was actually venturing onto fresh ground. His only other comedy was a youthful work written more than 50 years earlier.

The production featured here on World of Opera is by Houston Grand Opera, and comes to us from Houston's Wortham Theater Center. The stars of the show are renowned baritone Bryn Terfel in the title role and Patricia Racette as Alice Ford.

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