Shakespeare may have invented Falstaff but it’s Verdi who takes him to a whole new level, naming an opera after him and putting this larger than life character at the very heart of the piece.
Bass-baritone Henry Waddington makes a welcome return to Opera North as the eponymous ‘hero’ in this season’s production of Falstaff which opens the Company’s Green Season in September. We caught up with him during rehearsals to ask what he makes of the lovable rogue and his dubious shenanigans.
How do you think Falstaff is best described?
Fat, old, lazy, selfish, lecherous, broke and pretty cunning. He’s definitely enjoying life to the full but he’s also terrified of growing old and his fast approaching demise.
Why do you think the character fascinated Verdi so much?
Verdi was a huge lover of Shakespeare, and a lover of the Bard is a lover of Falstaff. To Verdi, the character of Falstaff must have been so obviously operatic. So full of joy, so huge!
What’s it like singing Falstaff, particularly the monologue at the end of Act I which Bryn Terfel describes as ‘the bane of my life’?
Sir John Falstaff is one of the greatest comic characters in theatre so to get a chance to perform this role is both a joy and an honour. There are times in rehearsal when I get fed up with the sound of my own voice though!! When Falstaff gets going he doesn’t stop! I agree with Bryn, the Act I monologue is hugely challenging vocally but the scene is such fun to play.
Do you have a favourite moment in the opera and why?
I have so many but two stick out for me. In Act II Scene II when he arrives at the Ford’s house to seduce Alice Ford, we see Sir John at his finest – youthful, playful and a master of seduction. Conversely, Act III Scene I is the lowest moment for Falstaff. The tragic clown comes to the fore.
How does this production differ from the previous ones you’ve performed in?
This is my fourth production of Falstaff, but the first in which he’s living in a rundown caravan parked up behind a pub just down the road from the Royal Windsor Tennis Club. Director Olivia Fuchs has also set this production in the ’80s which is different from any I’ve appeared in before.
How can the music best be described?
The score is utter joy and the voices and orchestra unite in comedy in a way that no other comic opera does. The music bubbles and laughs along to the unfolding drama. It’s certainly a treat for both the eyes and ears.
What would you say to someone who’s still debating whether to come?
I would say ‘buy a ticket!’ It’s always worth spending a bit of time and money on a fun night out with lots of laughs.
You can catch Henry Waddington in Falstaff from Thursday 28 September at Leeds Grand Theatre. After the run in Leeds, the production tours to Newcastle Theatre Royal, Nottingham Theatre Royal and The Lowry in Salford.