Falstaff - Synopsis

Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff. Ambrogio Maestri Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff. Anthony Mee, Simon Keenlyside, Anatoli Kotscherga Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff. Anja Harteros, Marjana Lipovsek, Chen Reiss, Ann-Katrin Naidu


Giuseppe Verdi
Arrigo Boito


Act One, Scene One

Sir John Falstaff  is staying at the "Garter Inn" in Windsor with his two servants, Bardolfo and Pistola. Dr Caius accuses the two servants of having made him drunk and then robbed him. They maintain their innocence of the charge and Falstaff adds his support, upon which Dr Caius, thoroughly angry, leaves the inn.

Falstaff does not have enough money left in his purse to settle his bill at the inn. For this reason the gallant knight has written love letters to two ladies who live in Windsor: Alice Ford and Meg Page, both of whom are married to rich men. Bardolfo and Pistola adamently refuse to bear the letters to their destinations as their honour will not allow them to take part in such a transaction. Upon this Falstaff gives them a moralizing sermon about honour, which as far as he is concerned is a word which is empty of all meaning and therefore of no practical use, and throws them out.


Act One, Scene Two

Falstaff's young page has delivered the letters to Alice and Meg and the two friends soon discover that they have both received the same declaration of love from Falstaff. Together with their neighbour, Mistress Quickly, and Alice's daughter, Nannetta, they plan to take their revenge on Falstaf.

In the meantime Bardolfo and Pistola inform Ford, Alice's jealous husband, of Falstaff's intentions. Dr Caius, whom Ford has chosen to be Nannetta's husband, joins in the angry tirade against Falstaff. Together they devise a plan which will enable them to pay Falstaff back and at the same time put Alice's fidelity to the test.

Against the background of all this excitement Nannetta and young Fenton manage to meet and pledge their love for each other.


Act Two, Scene One

In mock penitence, Bardolfo and Pistola beg their master's forgiveness and return to his service. Mistress Quickly brings the knight messages from Alice and Meg; she informs him that both are madly in love with him and that Alice has asked her to tell Falstaff that her husband is out from two till three every day. Falstaff assures Mistress Quickly that he will visit Alice punctually at that hour.

Scarcely has Mistress Quickly left but Bardolfo announces a second visitor. Using a false name and bearing wine and a purse full of silver, Ford introduces himself to Falstaff. He claims that he is in love with Mistress Ford but has been refused, and begs the knight to lay siege to her heart and thus weaken her virtue. Falstaff assures him that Alice will be lying in his hearts within half an hour, as he has learned from her when her husband will be absent from home. While Falstaff goes to get ready for his rendezvous, Ford is left alone to give vent to the tormenting jealousy to which he is prey.


Act Two, Scene Two

In Ford's house, Alice, Meg, Nannetta and Mistress Quickly are busy with the final preparations for the trick they plan to play on Falstaff; the plan is that Falstaff's rendezvous should be interrupted by the announcement of Ford's imminent return, which will make Falstaff fear for his life. Falstaff appears and begins to woo Alice. In accordance with their plan, Meg suddenly appears and announces that Ford is returning home; the two women conceal Falstaff behind a screen.

When, however, Mistress Quickly enters the room immediately afterwards with the same warning, the women realize that their game has become bitter earnest. And indeed, Ford, accompanied by Dr Caius, Fenton, Bardolfo and Pistola, storms into his house in the hope of surprising his wife's supposed lover. While the men turn the house upside down in their search, the women manage to hide Falstaff in a huge wash-basket, which they had placed at the ready. Alice orders the basket and its contents, including Falstaff, to be tipped into the Thames. When he sees this, Ford realizes that he has been wrong to suspect his wife of being unfaithful.


Act Three, Scene One

Falstaff seeks comfort in mulled wine after his involuntary bathe and philosophizes about life and the ways of the world. Mistress Quickly comes in with another message from Alice: the latter is inconsolable at the thought of Falstaff's mishaps and begs him to come to yet another rendezvous. Falstaff is to come into the park at midnight, disguised as the Black Hunter. Falstaff takes the bait yet again - much to the delight of Alice and her friends, who have watched the scene, concealed from view.

The women plan to frighten Falstaff that night in the supposedly haunted park. Ford also joins in the plot to take revenge on the knight and plans to announce the betrothal of his daughter Nannetta to Dr Caius that very night. Mistress Quickly overhears him planning this with Dr Caius and warns Nannetta and Alice.


Act Three, Scene Two

Shortly before midnight Fenton meets Nannetta, disguised as the queen of the Fairies, in the park. In order to thwart Ford´s plans, Alice disguises Fenton as a monk.

Alice and Falstaff have just met as the bell tolls for the twelfth time, when Meg announces the arrival of a horde of ghosts. While the women flee, Falstaff throws himself on the ground in sheer panic. The queen of the Fairies (Nannetta) and her entourage (townspeople of Windsor) discover Falstaff there, taunt him, urge him to repent his sins and beat him. Only when Falstaff recognizes Bardolfo amongst his masked tormentors does the mob finally leave him alone.

At the end of the masquerade, Ford announces the Queen of the Fairies´ betrothal to Dr Caius. A second couple, a heavily-veiled girl and a monk, also ask for Ford´s blessing. Only when Ford bids them all unmask does he realize that this second couple is his daughter and Fenton, whereas Dr Caius discovers Bardolfo under the mask of the Queen of the Fairies. Ford accepts defeat, blesses his daughter and joins  everyone in agreeing with Falstaff that "Jesting is a man´s vocation. Wise is he who is jolly".


Translation: Susan Bollinger

© Bayerische Staatsoper