Falstaff (opera)

Falstaff (opera)

"Falstaff" is an operatic "commedia lirica" in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi, adapted by Arrigo Boito from Shakespeare's plays "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and scenes from "Henry IV". It was Verdi's last opera, written in the composer's ninth decade, and only the second of his twenty-six operas to be a comedy. It was also the third of Verdi's operas to be based on a Shakespearean play, following his earlier "Macbeth" and "Otello".

The first performance took place on February 9, 1893 at La Scala in Milan, Italy to great success. While not as immensely popular as the works that immediately preceded it, "Aida" and "Otello", "Falstaff" has long been a critical favorite for its refinement and melodic invention.



Act 1

"A room at the Garter Inn"

Falstaff is surrounded by his servants Bardolph, 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). Bardolph and Pistol 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.

"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 Bardolph and Pistol. All three are thirsty 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 Bardolph and Pistol are persuaded to introduce Ford to Falstaff under an assumed name.

Act 2

"A room at the Garter Inn"

Bardolph and Pistol (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?').

"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 Master Ford. 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.

Act 3

"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 Mistress 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 Mistress 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 Mistress Quickly.

"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 Bardolph 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 all the world is folly and all are figures of fun ("Tutto nel mondo è burla... Tutti gabbati!").

Synopsis source: [The plot description is adapted from "The Opera Goer's Complete Guide" by Leo Melitz, 1921 version]

Noted arias

* "L'onore! Ladri!" - Sir John Falstaff in Act I, Scene 1
* "È sogno? o realtà" - Ford in Act II, Scene 1
* "Va, vecchio John" - Sir John Falstaff in Act II, Scene 1
* "Gaie Comari di Windsor"- Alice Ford in Act II, Scene 2
* "Quand'ero paggio del Duca di Norfolk" - Sir John Falstaff in Act II, Scene 2
* "Dal labbro il canto estasiato vola" - Fenton in Act III, Scene 2
* "Sul fil d'un soffio etesio" - Nannetta in Act III, Scene 2


Verdi scored "Falstaff" for 3 flutes (third doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (triangle, cymbals, bass drum), harp, and strings. In addition, a guitar, natural horn, and bell are heard from offstage.

elected recordings



* "The Opera Goer's Complete Guide" by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.

External links

* [http://www.geocities.com/jrpsong/falstaff.html Some recordings of Falstaff]
* [http://www.geocities.com/ehub035/falstaff.htm Recordings of "Falstaff"]
* [http://www.classicistranieri.com/dblog/articolo.asp?articolo=6077 Creative Commons MP3 Recording]
* [http://www.giuseppeverdi.it/stampabile.asp?IDCategoria=162&IDSezione=581&ID=20353 Libretto]
* [http://www.aria-database.com/cgi-bin/aria-search.pl?opera=Falstaff&a Database list of Falstaff]
* [http://www.operadis-opera-discography.org.uk/CLVEFALS.HTM Further "Falstaff" discography]

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