Though of uneven quality, there is no doubt that the best of Salieri’s music really was very good indeed. He was extraordinarily popular in the course of his lifetime. That his works fell into neglect soon after his death is due to several factors: unfavourable comparisons with Mozart, variable libretti, a need to write hastily for the Nationaltheater, and the gradual change in fashion - all these contributed to his works’ decline. In recent years, ironically helped by the film Amadeus, interest in his music has been fuelled, and has led to a revival of his best works, of which Falstaff is one.
Premiered in 1799, Falstaff is one of the earliest operas to be based on a Shakespeare play. The Merry Wives of Windsor. Excellently adapted by Salieri’s librettist Carlo Prospers Defranceschi, Falstaff dispenses with some of the complicated sub-plots, and concentrates on Falstaff and the two couples - the Fords and the Slenders. With very witty dialogue and music of exhilarating impetus (the Penguin Complete Guide describes the pace of the drama as ’fast and furious’!), the work cannot fail to make an impact. Though belonging firmly to the eighteenth-century tradition, there is much subtle nuance in characterisation making it rewarding for both listner and audience alike.