Met Opera 2018-19 Preview: A Look At the Historic ‘Falstaff’ Interpreters, Including Tito Gobbi, Victor Maurel, & Leonard Warren, Among Others

By David Salazar

The title character of Verdi’s “Falstaff” is a notoriously challenging role. Not only is there a certain vocal quality required, but a poor actor can sink the entire opera; Falstaff is what makes his own titular opera work in a way quite similar to the eponymous personage of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”

The Metropolitan Opera is set to revive Verdi’s final masterpiece on Feb. 22 and given the ultimate rarity of the work on the Met stage (it has been performed 185 times before this revival), it is fitting to take a look back at the men who have risen to the task of Verdi’s character.

The First Ones

To this point, there have been 19 baritones / bass-baritones who have interpreted the role. The first of these was Victor Maurel, who took on the first 22 “Falstaff” performances at the Met; all of his performances took place between 1895 and 1896.

After Maurel, the torch was passed to Antonio Scotti who sang the next 32 performances of the opera between 1909 and 1927; his run was uninterrupted so he not only holds the Met record for most performances in the title role, but he also has the record of most consecutive performances of the role.

The Mid 1900’s

In 1938-39, Lawrence Tibbett revived the opera for five performances; he would reprise the role for another two in 1944 before handing over the reigns to Leonard Warren for another five performances between 1944 and 1949.

Then the opera disappeared for a decade and returned in the 1960s with a plethora of different interpreters (bear with us). Between 1964 and 1972, the opera was championed by five different artists – Anselmo Colzani (14 performances), Geraint Evans (14), Fernando Corena (10), Ezio Flagello (seven), and Tito Gobbi (five).

Later 1900’s

Cornell MacNeil would become the Falstaff of choice in 1975 when he sang the role 13 times in three months.

In 1985-86, Giuseppe Taddei interpreted the opera 11 times in the same season, with Peter Glossop stepping in for one at the beginning of the season and Louis Quilico putting on two shows in March 1986.

The 1990s were the time for Paul Plishka to shine in the role as he took on 14 performances between 1992 and 1996; Bruno Pola got one performance in February of 1996.

The 21st Century

Bryn Terfel was the Falstaff interpreter of the early 2000s and he showcased his interpretation 15 times at the Met between 2002 and 2005; Juan Pons stepped in for one performance in 2002.

In the second decade of the 2000s, Ambrogio Maestri has been the champion of the opera. He will sing the six performances this season, adding to the eight that he took on in 2013 when he premiered the current production. He was sick during two performances of that run and Nicola Alaimo stepped in.