By STEVEN HOWELL Press-Republican
---- — MONTREAL — Move over, tragedy.
Words like “lighthearted” and “comedy” don’t necessarily first come to mind when thinking opera. Until now.
Opera de Montreal pays proper due to Giuseppe Verdi with “Falstaff” for four performances beginning Saturday, Nov. 9, and its annual gala, which takes place Sunday, Dec. 1.
“We want to celebrate Verdi’s bicentennial,” Opera de Montreal artistic director Michel Beaulac said. Verdi was born in 1813.
“Falstaff” is the story of Sir John Falstaff, an old, broke and drunken ladies’ man who sends out one too many identical love letters — to his complete and utter humiliation. Verdi’s inspiration for “Falstaff” comes from Shakespeare’s “The Two Merry Wives of Windsor” and portions of “Henry IV.”
“‘Falstaff’ is simply one of Verdi’s greatest operas,” Beaulac said. “It’s one of his masterpieces. He’s in full possession of his knowledge as a composer and a theater person.”
Beaulac said the structure of the work in terms of comedy “is so well put together.”
“It runs like a Swiss watch,” Beaulac said.
The opera is lighthearted fare.
“Nobody dies,” Beaulac quipped. “Except for maybe Falstaff’s pride. The character is so pretentious. His pride is put to the test. That’s the element that passes on.”
Up until only recently, Opera de Montreal’s Falstaff has been replaced. Paolo Gavanelli was originally slated for the plum title role until a hand injury required surgery. The “new” Falstaff is now being played by Oleg Bryjak.
“And he’s a fabulous Falstaff,” Beaulac said. “He’s incredibly convincing in all aspects for the title role.”
Marie-Nicole Lemieux portrays Mrs. Quickly, one of Falstaff’s love interests. Lemieux has played the role all over the world.
“She’s probably the best Mrs. Quickly at the present time,” Beaulac said. “She’s famous for that part.”
The cast also includes Gregory Dahl as Ford, the wealthy man about town; Gianna Corbisiero as Mrs. Alice Ford; Aline Kutan as Nannetta, the Fords’ daughter; and Antonio Figueroa as Fenton, Nannetta’s suitor.
Conducting the work is Daniele Callegari, a famed Italian composer who was a guest conductor for a decade at La Scala, Milan’s prestigious opera house.
“This is really his repertoire,” Beaulac said. “He knows it by heart.”
Opera de Montreal revamped the production, which comes courtesy of a New York City Opera production that was re-staged and redesigned. David Gately acts as stage director and John Conklin joins the crew as set and costume designer.
“It has a totally new aesthetic to it,” Beaulac said. “It looks great.”
Overall, Beaulac said, the audience should be very pleased with the operatic result.
“They’ll feel like singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Verdi.”
“Falstaff” is presented Nov. 9, 12, 14 and 16.
Verdi sticks around for Opera de Montreal’s annual fundraising gala, which takes its turn in December.
“It will be dedicated solely to Verdi’s music,” Beaulac said.
Beaulac invited 12 artists from around the world to join in on the festivities.
“It will be two hours of Verdi music with excerpts that are rarely presented in Montreal.”
The 18th Le Gala takes place at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1. Gala tickets range from $44 to $206.
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.IF YOU GO WHAT: "Falstaff." WHERE: Place des Arts is at 175 St. Catherine St. W. in Montreal (Metro station Place des Arts). WHEN: The curtain call is at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9, 12, 14 and 16. ADMISSION: Tickets range from about $52 to $136. Discounts are available for students and those ages 18 to 30. CONTACT: Call the Place des Arts box office at (866) 842-2112. Also visit www.pda.qc.ca or www.operademontreal.com.