Premiered: February 9, 1893 - La Scala, Milan
Setting of Falstaff:
Verdi's Falstaff takes place in Windsor, England, at the end of the 14th century.
The Story of Falstaff
Sir John Falstaff, an old fat knight from Windsor, sits in the Garter Inn with his "partner's in crime," Bardolfo and Pistola. As they enjoy their drinks, Dr. Caius interrupts the men and accuses Falstaff of breaking into and robbing his house. Falstaff is able to redirect Dr. Caius' anger and accusations and Dr. Caius soon leaves. Falstaff scolds Bardolfo and Pistola for being inept thieves. He soon develops another scheme to acquire money - he will woo two wealthy matrons (Alice Ford and Meg Page) and take advantage of their husbands' wealth. He writes two love letters and instructs his partners to deliver them, but they refuse, proclaiming that it is not honorable to do such a thing. Hearing their irony, Falstaff kicks them out of the inn and finds a page to deliver the letters instead.
In the garden outside of Alice Ford's home, she and her daughter, Nannetta, are exchanging stories with Meg Page and Dame Quickly. It isn't long before Alice and Meg discover that they have been sent identical love letters. The four women decide to teach Falstaff a lesson and design a plan to punish him. Bardolfo and Pistola have told Mr. Ford, Alice's husband, of Falstaff's intentions. As Mr. Ford, Bardolfo, Pistola, and Fenton (an employee of Mr. Ford) approach the garden, the four women move inside to further discuss their plans. However, Nannetta stays behind for a while longer to steal a kiss from Fenton. The women have decided that they will set up a secret rendezvous between Alice and Falstaff, while the men decide that Bardolfo and Pistola will introduce Mr. Ford to Falstaff under a different name.
Back in the Garter Inn, Bardolfo and Pistola (secretly employed by Mr. Ford), beg for Falstaff's forgiveness. They announce the arrival of Dame Quickly. She tells Falstaff that the two women have accepted his letters with neither of them knowing he had sent it to both women. Quickly tells him that Alice, in fact, has arranged a meeting between 2 and 3 o'clock that very day. Ecstatic, Falstaff begins to clean himself up. It isn't long after that Bardolfo and Pistola introduce a disguised Mr. Ford to Falstaff. He tells Falstaff that he has a burning desire for Alice, but Falstaff states that he has already won her over and she arranged a meeting with him later that day. Mr. Ford, becomes furious. He is unaware of his wife's plan, and believes her to be cheating on him. Both men leave the inn.
Dame Quickly arrives in Alice's room and tells Alice, Meg, and Nannetta of Falstaff's reaction. Though Nannetta seems uninterested, the other three women have a laugh. Nannetta has learned that her father, Mr. Ford, has given her away to Dr. Caius for marriage. The other women assure her that will never happen. All the women, except for Alice, hide when Falstaff is heard approaching. As she sits in her chair playing the lute, Falstaff begins recounting his past to her, attempting to win over her heart. Then Dame Quickly suddenly announces Meg's arrival and Falstaff jumps behind a screen to hide. Meg has learned that Mr. Ford is on his way over and that he is beyond mad. The women then hide Falstaff inside a hamper full of dirty laundry. Mr. Ford enters the house with Fenton, Bardolfo, and Pistola. As the men search the house, Fenton and Nannetta sneak behind the screen. Mr. Ford hears kissing from behind the screen. Thinking it is Falstaff, he discovers it is his daughter and Fenton. He throws Fenton out of the house and continues searching for Falstaff. The women, worried that he will find Falstaff, especially when Falstaff starts audibly complaining of the heat, throw the hamper out of the window and Falstaff is able to escape.
Sulking in his misfortunes, Falstaff is about to go into the inn to drown his sorrows with wine and beer. Dame Quickly arrives and tells him that Alice still loves him and would like to arrange another meeting at midnight. She shows him a note from Alice to prove she is telling the truth. Falstaff's face lights up once more. Dame Quickly tells him that the meeting will take place in Windsor Park, even though it is often said that the park becomes haunted at midnight, and that Alice has requested him to dress as the Black Hunter. Fenton and the other women plan to dress up as spirits later that night to frighten Falstaff senseless. Mr. Ford promises to wed Dr. Caius and Nannetta that night and is told how he can recognize her in costume. Dame Quickly overhears their plan.
Later that night in the moonlit park, Fenton sings of his love for Nannetta, which she joins in. The women give Fenton a monk costume and tell him that it will spoil Mr. Ford's and Dr. Caius' plan. They quickly hide when Falstaff enters wearing his antlered, Black Hunter costume. He proceeds to address Alice when Meg runs in shouting that demons are moving quickly and are about to enter the park. Nannetta, dressed as the Fairy Queen orders the spirits to torment Falstaff. The spirits surround Falstaff and he begs for mercy. Moments later, he recognizes one of his tormentors as Bardolfo. When the joke is over, he tells them it was well deserved. Mr. Ford then announces that they will end the day with a wedding. A second couple also asks to be married. Mr. Ford calls upon Dr. Caius and the Fairy Queen and the second couple. He marries both couples before realizing that Bardolfo has changed into the Fairy Queen costume and the second couple was Fenton and Nannetta. Happy with the outcome of events, and knowing that he was not the only one tricked, Falstaff proclaims the world is nothing more than a jest and everyone shares a good hearty laugh.