The legendary closing line to the 1893 opera “Falstaff” — “All the world’s a joke, man is born a joker, and he who laughs last, laughs best” — signals how laughter evades every portion of life. With a chuckle, a giggle, a roar or even a shriek, laughter brings a reprieve from our often mundane world.
Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Laughter becomes an essential component in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Falstaff,” which the School of Music, Theatre & Dance will present tomorrow through Sunday at the Power Center.
Operas, particularly Verdi’s, can carry a stigma as dramatic tragedies in which the protagonist dies and the crowd is left weeping. But in some ways, the element of comedy improves upon the opera-going experience by eliminating the static moments to appeal to a broader range of viewers.
The comedic opera “Falstaff” depicts the story of Shakespeare’s bawdy and unordinary knight, Sir John Falstaff, who is characterized as a foolish, fat drunk. Falstaff first appeared in Shakespeare’s two “Henry IV” plays and later in “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and Verdi’s librettist Arrigo Boito combined scenes from all of these works for the opera. The action proceeds at a fast pace as Falstaff employs deceptive tactics to improve his monetary holdings. He writes two letters of courtship to affluent married women in Windsor, but in the end he is hilariously disgraced by the whole town.
The opera proves that a protagonist does not have to be a typical hero — a rotund, jovial figure can win over hearts, too.
“What makes him infamous is that he indulges in the pleasures of life,” said Jonathan Lasch, a School of Music, Theatre & Dance doctoral student who will sing the title role tomorrow and Saturday.
In order to play the portly hero, Lasch was fitted with a fat suit. He had to work on how to sit, stand and move in this other body. Though the training was demanding, he enjoyed the experience of becoming someone so unlike his actual self.
“It is freeing because I can do things with my body and voice that I wouldn’t do in another show,” Lasch said.
Lasch said that though his character is morbidly obese, he is very appealing and even charming, and always a source of humor. Even as Falstaff is depicted as the town drunk, he is greatly admired for being carefree, reckless and notoriously exuberant. Despite some of his self-indulgent qualities, he brings forth an amusement and excitement to the town that would not exist without him.
Verdi’s opera questions what it means to laugh, and this performance highlights how laughter provides a means to release one’s strains in order to revel in the pleasures of life.