"Falstaff" was Guiseppe's Verdi's only successful comedic opera. It also was his last.
And though the music isn't as intense as his best-known dramas, "Falstaff" requires an exact mix of voices. Which is why it isn't often performed by professional companies, much less college programs.
"But we have the right balance of singers this year, and we're excited to be able to involve our students in this opera," said Dugg McDonough, LSU Opera director. "This was an opportunity we couldn't pass up for our students."
"Falstaff" opens Nov. 16 in the Claude L. Shaver Theatre in LSU's Music and Dramatic Arts Building.
The three-act opera is based on William Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" mixed with scenes from the Bard's "Henry IV."
"Falstaff," introduced in 1893, tells the story of clever wives, secretive young lovers and jealous husbands revolving around Shakespeare's “fat knight,” Sir John Falstaff's thwarted efforts at seduction.
Verdi wrote 28 operas and unsuccessfully tried his hand at comedy once before ending with "Falstaff." Both the story and music still resonate with audiences.
"This is one of Verdi's three greatest operas," McDonough said. "We've been wanting to do Verdi for some time. The last time was in 2008 when we staged 'La Traviata' in the (LSU) Union Theater."
McDonough knew two high-caliber baritones — Andre Chiang and Johnnie Bankens — would be working on their doctorate degrees in the LSU School of Music's voice program this fall. Both could readily sing the part of Falstaff.
"The timing was right," said McDonough, adding that other strong singers in the program also were available to fill the remaining roles.
All of the main roles have been double cast with main singers alternating performances.
Myles Garver and Monica Music are playing young lovers Fenton and Nannetta in two of the performances. Garver is a graduate student from Mobile, Alabama; Music is a junior from Dallas.
"We aren't the only romantic couple in the opera, but we are 'the' romantic couple," Garver said. "And we have the most romantic music."
But Fenton and Nannetta's songs are a little different from others in that they're performed only seconds at a time. They are in their teens, and they have to sneak their moments together.
"Nannetta's father wants her to marry an older man, Dr. Caius," Music said. "And Nannetta thinks he's gross. She wants to marry Fenton."
McDonough instructed the singers to perform their parts like "sugar sprinkles on a cake" — sweet but not overwhelmingly so.
"They're just a couple of teenagers around a bunch of adults," Garver said. "Their moments really are sprinkled throughout the opera, and Fenton never intended to get caught up in their drama."
An LSU Opera production
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16-18; 3 p.m. Nov. 19.
WHERE: Claude L. Shaver Theatre in the LSU Music and Dramatic Arts Building, Dalrymple Drive.
TICKETS/INFO: $29; $19, seniors; $14, LSU students with ID. (225) 578-3527 or lsu.edu/cmda.