Music composed by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). Libretto by Arrigo Boito after The Merry
Wives of Windsor and King Henry IV by William Shakespeare.
First Performance: 9 February 1893, Teatro alla Scala, Milan.
|Sir John Falstaff
|Ford, husband of Alice
|Bardolfo and Pistola, followers of Falstaff
|Mrs. Alice Ford
|Nannetta, daughter of Alice
|Mrs. Meg Page
Setting: Windsor, during the reign of Henry IV of England
A room at the Garter Inn. Falstaff is surrounded by his servants Bardolfo, Pistola and the
innkeeper, when Dr. Caius arrives and accuses him of robbery, but the excited doctor is soon
ejected. Falstaff hands letters to his servants for delivery to Mistress Ford and to Mistress Page.
The letters, which purport of Falstaff’s love for the respectable women, are intended to seduce
them (although he is really seducing them for the money). Bardolfo and Pistola refuse, however,
claiming that ‘honor’ prevents them from obeying his orders. Sending the letters by a page
instead, Falstaff confronts his servants (’Che dunque l’onore? Una parola!’ — ‘What, then, is
honor? A word!‘) and chases them out of his sight.
Change of scene: Ford’s garden. Alice and Meg have received Falstaff’s letters, both of identical
contents. They exchange them, and in conjunction with Mistress Quickly, resolve to punish the
knight. The three are also none too pleased with Master Ford, who is intending to give his
daughter Nannetta in marriage to Dr. Caius. This, they resolve, will not happen. Meanwhile, Ford
has been apprised of the letters by Bardolfo and Pistola. All three are athirst for vengeance. A
brief love duet between Fenton and Nannetta follows; the women return home and, through
Mistress Quickly, a maid, invite Falstaff to an assignation. The men also arrive upon the scene,
and Bardolfo and Pistola are persuaded to introduce Ford to Falstaff under an assumed name.
Same room as in the first scene of Act I. Bardolfo and Pistola (now in the pay of Ford),
pretending to beg for forgiveness for past transgressions, announce to their master the arrival of
Mistress Quickly, who delivers the invitation. Ford is now introduced as Signor Fontana, who
offers money to the fat knight to intercede for him with Mistress Ford. Falstaff agrees with
pleasure, and while he attires himself in splendid array in his chamber, Ford is consumed with
jealousy (’È sogno o realtà?’ — ‘Is it a dream or reality?‘).
Change of scene: A room in Ford’s house. As Mistress Quickly announces the coming of Falstaff,
Mistress Ford has a large clothes basket placed in readiness. Falstaff’s attempts to seduce the lady
are cut short as Mistress Quickly reports the arrival of Mistress Page, and the knight is compelled
to conceal himself behind a screen. When the angry Ford with his friends appear to capture
Falstaff, the latter hides in the basket. In the meantime, a love scene between Fenton and
Nannetta takes place behind the screen, and the men returning, hear the sound of a kiss; they
think to entrap Falstaff, but find Fenton, who is ordered by Ford to leave. When the men again
proceed with the search, the women order the wash basket to be thrown into the ditch, where
Falstaff is compelled to endure the jeers of the crowd.
Before the inn. Falstaff, in a gloomy mood, curses the sorry state of the world. Some mulled
wine, however, soon improves his mood. The fat knight again receives an invitation through
Dame Quickly, which is overheard by the men. After Falstaff, dubious at first, has promised to
go to Herne’s Oak dressed as the Black Huntsman, the place of meeting, he enters the house with
Dame Quickly, and the men concoct a plan for his punishment. Dr. Caius is promised the hand of
Nannetta, and is told of her disguise. The plot is overheard by Dame Quickly.
Change of scene: At Herne’s Oak in Windsor Park. A moonlit midnight. The women disguise
Fenton as a monk, and arrange that he shall spoil the plans of Dr. Caius. Falstaff’s love scene
with Mistress Ford is interrupted by the announcement that witches are approaching, and the men
disguised as elves and fairies thrash Falstaff soundly. When their vengeance is satisfied, Dr.
Caius finds that he has captured Bardolfo instead of Nannetta in the garb of a fairy queen, but
Fenton and Nannetta, with the consent of Ford, are joined in wedlock. Falstaff, pleased to find
himself not the only dupe, proclaims in a fugue that the whole world is a joke (Tutto nel mondo è
image_description=Falstaff by Eduard Theodor Ritter von Gr¸tzner (1925)
first_audio_name=Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff
product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff
product_by=Sir John Falstaff: Bryn Terfel; Dr Caius: Anthony Mee; Bardolph: Neil Jenkins; Pistol: Julian Close; Alice Ford: Janice Watson; Nannetta; Clare Ormshaw; Meg Page: Imelda Drumm; Mistress Quickly: Anne-Marie Owens; Ford: Christopher Purves; Fenton: Rhys Meirion. Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera. Carlo Rizzi, conducting. Live performance, Welsh National Opera at the Wales Millennium Centre, March 2008.