Is opera still just a pleasant pastime and oasis of high culture? Not if Calixto Bieito has any say in the matter. The shocking, outrage-inducing director whose surprise-packed productions can be relied upon to attract attention is a welcome guest at Hamburg State Opera. His most recent venture is a staging of Verdi’s comic opera Falstaff, which Bieito reinterprets as an apocalyptic satire on entertainment and prototype scenario of modern society. Bieito’s take on Falstaff is a black comedy that exposes the tragicomic aspect of human existence. He casts the eponymous hero of the piece as a charismatic and perverse pleasure-seeker, a melancholy – and corpulent – bon vivant, whose provocations hold up a mirror to our society.
Falstaff is Verdi’s last work for the stage and as such his testament. By the time he composed it he had long since broken free of convention and no longer cared what the world thought of him. Falstaff shows us Verdi the tragedian smiling wisely as he takes his final bow. The opera even ends with the words “Tutto nel mondo è burla” – “All the world’s a joke”. Yet there is nothing bitter about this message.
The new Hamburg production boasts a world-class cast with Ambrogio Maestri – “a Falstaff for our times” – in the title role and Maija Kovalevska as Alice Ford.