Falstaff: The Operatic Character in His Own Opera

Spanish baritone Luis Cansino as Falstaff. Photo credit: Brno National Theatre.

Brno, April 1, 2023 (BD) – At its best, opera focuses on extreme situations with a slow-motion analysis that forces the viewer to appreciate the depth of emotions playing out between the characters on stage. To really succeed, it needs an emotional hook.

It also needs an operatic character.

This Wednesday, the Opera of the Brno National Theatre will present just such a character: Falstaff.

The premiere of Falstaff is on Wednesday at 7 pm at Janacek Theatre. There will be additional performances on April 10 and 15, May 12, and June 2.

Sir John Falstaff appeared in three plays by William Shakespeare, most famously in Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2, where he opens the eyes of Prince Hal, the future King Henry V of England, to the real world. He is fat, witty, and clever. He is also narcissistic, cowardly, and a braggart. Basically, he is never boring. He provides a foil to the nobility of the other characters with whom he appears, showing the harshness of real life.

Some believe that he is, given his multiple layers and complexities, the most fascinating character Shakespeare ever created.

In other words: He is a larger-than-life character who, frankly, is operatic.

Ondřej Havelka, known for comedy and directing, returns to the Brno opera stage to lead the production of the last full opera by Giuseppe Verdi. It has a brilliant cast and, as befitting the titular character, humour.

Key to the opera is the performer who plays Falstaff. In this case, Brno Opera has the perfect one: Spanish baritone Luis Cansino. Cansino, who has performed Verdi’s dramas Sicilian Vespers and Nabucco in Brno before, is an excellent singer who will now be able to show his chops with humour. He will be joined onstage by Italian baritone Damiano Salerno, who Brno audiences have also seen in Nabucco.

“From the moment I first sang Falstaff 14 years ago, I knew that this character and I would go hand in hand for a long time,” Cansino said. “It is the perfect role because of its demands: it requires the performer to show all his interpretation and vocal abilities. I feel identified with this character because I don’t like flat characters, but ones that allow for a wide range of psychological nuances to be explored. Falstaff is not a comic character. His comedy is determined by the situations he creates himself, often unknowingly. Falstaff feels the bitterness of what he was and what he is no longer, he gets angry and suffers from the traps that are made for him in the course of the story, he realizes what his life really is. He is a fascinating person who, despite the apparent ridiculousness, was able to rediscover himself and overcome adversity.”

2023-24 NdB Season

At a press conference earlier this week, NdB director Martin Glaser and his colleagues laid out their plans for an ambitious forthcoming season of culture in Brno.

“I believe that our 10th season together will confirm that the path we set out on years ago was the right one and is still inspiring,” Glaser said. ”I would very much like to walk along it as much as possible. Everyone with an open mind and heart will always be welcome in the auditoriums of our theatres!”

Each section of NdB — Opera, Ballet and Drama — have performances that are well worth your time.

As normal, the season will kick off with the free open-air concert on the piazzetta in front of the Janáček Theater. This will take place on Monday, 7 September 2023, from 6 pm, featuring soloists, the choir and the orchestra of the NdB Janáček Opera under the baton of the chief conductor Marko Ivanovic.

Two important commemorations are planned for 2024. In the spring, there will be a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bedřich Smetana. Then, on 1 November 2024, Janáček, who would have turned 170 on 3 July 2024, will be honored with the 9th Janáček Brno festival. The full schedule will be announced and ticket sales will begin this November.

As for Opera, it will build up to and celebrate the Year of Czech Music in 2024.

“You don’t have to understand music, and you don’t have to understand opera at all,” said Jiří Heřman, artistic director of the NdB Janáček Opera ensemble. “You just have to surrender to it and let it work. It is an adventure that will definitely enrich you.”

Among the top opera highlights will be: Jakobín, by Antonín Dvořák, in the Janáček Theater on 8 October; Hurvínek sells a bride ( Hurvínek prodává nevěstu) by Bedřich Smetana at Reduta Theatre on 23 November; Dalibor, by Smetana, at Janáček Theater on 2 February 2024; and Rusalka, by Antonín Dvořák, at the Janáček Theater on 5 April 2024, plus many more performances.

Ballet, too, has many far-reaching plans. Two upcoming performances have been choreographed specifically for NdB Ballet. Vigil will include the choreography of Nacho Duato, Jiří Kylián, and Radu Poklitaru at Janacek Theatre on 3 November. Then, next May, Coco Chanel, a ballet about the legendary French fashion designer and her international cultural influence, will premiere with choreography by Mário Radačovský, set design by Marek Hollý, and costumes by Ľudmila Várossová.

And, continuing throughout the year and into the next, the innovative Brno Ballet 2, which is for younger dancers who are starting their professional careers, will continue to expand, with several performances.

The European Dance Competition Brno 2023 will be held from 27-29 June in Janacek Theatre. Dance Brno 2023 will be held in both the Mahen and Janáček Theatres on 5-12 November.

Drama has a long list of premieres. They will all, of course, be in Czech. However, given that most people know some of the big-name plays frontwards and backwards in English, it would not be a total waste, even if your Czech is not strong. It could even be interesting to question the translation of the immortal lines.

Hamlet — Být nebo nebýt, zabít či nezabít? Otázky skrývající vždy něco nového. — will premiere on 23 May 2024 at Mahen Theatre.

The National Theatre of Brno (NdB) presents opera, ballet, and theatrical performances. Click here for a schedule and more details.

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