About this Recording
8.110198-99 - VERDI: Falstaff (La Scala) (1932)
English 

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Falstaff

‘Ma il viso mio su lui risplenderà, come una stella sull’immensità’ (But on him shall my face shine, like a brilliant star) sings Alice Ford, in an exquisite, arching phrase, brief but memorable, at the close of Act 1 of Falstaff. The score is full of such delights, flashing by, gone almost before they are heard; it is this mosaic quality, the witty tumbling of rhythms and orchestral colours, the intertwining of melodies linked to a superb libretto, that make Falstaff unique among Verdi’s œuvre.

Throughout his life Verdi had a passion for the plays of Shakespeare. Macbeth, of 1847, was his first Shakespearian opera and over the years his mind turned to King Lear as another possible project. He never fulfilled his hopes in that direction and it was almost forty years before his second essay into Shakespeare, Otello, took to the stage. The librettist was Arrigo Boito, himself a talented composer, and it was he who, in the summer of 1889, proposed Sir John Falstaff as the subject of Verdi’s next work. The suggestion was timely, as Verdi had for some years been considering the composition of a comic opera; the theme of Shakespeare’s portly knight and his amorous exploits was inspired, and the septuagenarian took to it immediately.

Boito skilfully combined elements of both King Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor into six scenes, notwithstanding that Shakespeare’s original plays are customarily set almost two hundred years apart. Composition of the music was slow and frequently interrupted by personal difficulties, but Verdi and Boito collaborated closely. In the autumn of 1892 the stage designs were ready, prepared by Adolfo Hohenstein of La Scala, and the opera was cast, ready to begin rehearsals in the new year. The rôle of Falstaff himself was given to Victor Maurel, the first Iago in Otello in 1887 and who, according to surviving correspondence, became increasingly demanding of Verdi and La Scala. He believed that he had some sort of right to sing the leading rôle and demanded a huge fee; all this unpleasantness threatened to jeopardise the whole venture but Maurel was firmly put in his place — and given the part he wanted. After all, he was the ideal interpreter and is certainly the best-remembered singer of the original cast, which also included Emma Zilli, Giuseppina Pasqua and Antonio Pini-Corsi.

The première on 9th February 1893 was a gala night at La Scala; encores were given and the applause continued for over twenty minutes after curtain-fall. By this time, aged almost eighty, Verdi must have realised that Falstaff would be his last work; it was certainly one of his greatest triumphs and the ovation he received that night was surely not only for this brilliant comedy, but also as a tribute for a lifetime of unparalleled achievement in opera.

Falstaff was soon seen extensively around Europe and in the United States. It was performed in Rome, Monte Carlo, Vienna and Berlin a few weeks after the première, at Covent Garden and the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1894, and it reached the Metropolitan, New York in 1895.

Made in 1932, this is the first complete commercial recording of Falstaff and it includes some of the finest singers then appearing at La Scala. It demands the most meticulous ensemble preparation and under the experienced baton of maestro Molajoli receives a most vivacious and touching performance, notwithstanding the inevitable difficulties encountered in converting a score of such complexity into four-minute sections on 28 sides of 78s.

Giacomo Rimini, born in 1887 in Verona, made his début in 1910. In 1916 he sang in Verdi’s Battaglia di Legnano in Buenos Aires with Rosa Raisa, whom he married in 1920. He also first appeared in Chicago in 1916 and sang there regularly for 21 seasons. In 1926 he took part in the world première of Puccini’s Turandot at La Scala, where he also excelled in buffo rôles including Don Pasquale and Gianni Schicchi. After appearing throughout Europe and South America, he retired to found a school of singing with his wife. Rimini died in Chicago in 1952.

Pia Tassinari was born in Italy in 1903 and, after studying in Bologna and Milan, made her début as Mimì in 1929. Her 24-year career at La Scala began in 1932 and encompassed contemporary operas and rôles including Charlotte (Werther) and Margherita (Mefistofele). After the second World War Tassinari sang with her husband Ferruccio Tagliavini in South America and at the Met in 1947. In addition to Falstaff, Tassinari recorded L’amico Fritz, Werther and, in 1954, Un ballo in maschera (singing Ulrica), showing her vocal progression from lyric soprano to mezzo. Tassinari retired in 1962 and died in 1995.

Emilio Ghirardini first sang in Buenos Aires, as Rigoletto, in 1910 and was then seen throughout South America and in Cuba. On moving to Italy he joined the Italian army and from 1919 appeared in many Italian opera houses, first singing in Rome in 1924, as Tebaldo in Zandonai’s Giulietta e Romeo; other rôles there included Ford, Papageno and Belcore. Ghirardini first appeared at La Scala in 1930 and in 1934 was a guest artist at Covent Garden and in Paris. On his retirement he became a singing teacher in Rome and he died in Ferrara in 1965.

Aurora Buades was born in Valencia in 1897 and died in Florence in 1965. She studied in Milan and made her début in 1918 in Reggio Emilia. She scored a success in Pedrello’s L’uomo che ride at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan and appeared in Havana and South America, where she was a frequent guest artist. Buades sang rôles such as Eboli, Laura and Ulrica throughout Italy, in Madrid and Barcelona, and in 1932-3 appeared at La Scala as Amneris, and as Margherita in Mascagni’s Guglielmo Ratcliff. She recorded the rôle of Carmen and made several duets with her husband, the Sicilian Roberto D’Alessio, who was born in 1893. He first sang in Lugano in 1921 and over the next few years appeared in Palermo, Venice and Buenos Aires, and was chosen by Toscanini to sing the Duke in Rigoletto in 1927. Guest appearances included performances in Copenhagen and Turin, where he sang Don Ottavio in a cast including Carlo Galeffi and Eva Turner. His lyric tenor was much in demand as Arturo in I puritani, Ernesto in Don Pasquale, Rodolfo, and Cavaradossi. In 1952 he became a teacher in Florence, where he died in 1975.

Lorenzo Molajoli was born, probably in Rome, in 1868. His life is surprisingly little documented, but he studied with De Sanctis and Falchi at the Santa Cecilia music school and in 1891 began a career that led to appearances in South and Central America, South Africa and major Italian opera houses. Between the wars he conducted at La Scala, Milan, where he also worked with Italian Columbia on several complete opera recordings, some being ‘world first’ versions. His performances of La Traviata, Andrea Chénier, La Gioconda and Il trovatore have been re-issued by Naxos. Molajoli died in Milan in 1939.

Paul Campion

Synopsis

CD 1

Act I

Scene 1

[1] The scene is the interior of the Garter Inn. There is a broom leaning against the wall and there are doors at the back and to the left. Falstaff is sitting in a large chair at the table, on which are the remains of a meal, bottles and a tankard, as well as an ink-pot, pens, paper and a burning candle. He is busy sealing two letters that he has written. Dr Caius bursts in, with complaints against Falstaff, who pays him no attention (Falstaff! Sir John Falstaff! Hai battuto i miei servi!/Falstaff! Sir John Falstaff! You have beaten my servants!). Instead he calls out to the landlord for another bottle of sack. Caius continues with his accusations: Falstaff has worn out his horse, violated his house — but not his housekeeper, Falstaff interrupts — he will have justice and appeal to the Royal Council. Falstaff is unmoved, but Caius continues, now calling for Bardolph, whom he accuses of making him drunk. Bardolph agrees and is himself suffering from the excesses of the night before and from the adulterated wine; he could do with a prescription from the doctor for his sufferings and for his red, shining nose, a meteor that glows red each night. Caius accuses him of deliberately making him drunk and then picking his pockets (m’hai vuotate le tasche). Bardolph denies it, and Falstaff calls for Pistol. Caius at once accuses him of stealing two shillings and six half-crowns, brandishing the broom. Pistol and Caius shout abuse at each other, but Bardolph settles matters by claiming that Caius has dreamed the whole thing under the table (egli ha sognato mentre dormì sotto la tavola). Falstaff delivers judgement: the facts are denied, go in peace (I fatti son negati. Vattene in pace). Caius swears he will only drink again with honest, sober people, and to this Bardolph and Pistol provide a contrapuntal Amen. Falstaff silences them and tells them to have more discretion in their stealing.

[2] Falstaff looks at the inn bill on the slate: six chickens, six shillings; thirty flagons of sack, two pounds, and so on, making the two men turn out their pockets, since they are costing him a fortune in drink. He continues to inveigh against his followers. Bardolph’s glowing nose saves them oil, as they go from inn to inn, but makes up for that in the wine consumed, over the last thirty years (So che se andiam, la notte, di taverna in taverna Quel tuo naso ardentissimo mi serve da lanterna!/I know that if we go at night from inn to inn that glowing nose of yours serves me as a lantern!). He calls for another bottle; if Falstaff grows thin, he will be nothing. Bardolph and Pistol praise immense, enormous Falstaff.

[3] Now is the time, Falstaff tells them, to sharpen their wits (Ma è tempo d’assottigliar l’ingegno). He asks if they know Master Ford, a well-to-do man (un gran borghese); Ford’s wife is beautiful (Sua moglie è bella) and he is in love with her, and when she saw him she seemed to respond to his affections, declaring, with her eyes, that she was his (Io son di Sir John Falstaff). He goes on to explain that there is another, Margaret (La chiaman Meg/They call her Meg, says Pistol). She too is in love with Falstaff and shall also be his Golconda and his Coast of Gold, since he is still enjoying a St Martin’s summer, still pleasing to women. He has written two letters, one to each woman, and now tells Pistol and Bardolph to deliver them, but they refuse, on grounds of honour.

[4] Falstaff calls for his page, who scurries out with the two letters, leaving him to vent his fury on his two followers (Ladri! . . . Cloache d’ignominia/Rogues! . . . Sewers of ignominy!); they have no honour, and, in any case, honour cannot fill the belly (Può l’onore riempirvi la pancia?). The words are taken from Henry IV, V.i.128, where Falstaff reaches the sound conclusion that honour cannot set a limb and is a mere word (L’onor non è chirurgo. Che è dunque? Una parola/Honour is not a surgeon. What is it then? A word). His code of behaviour is in musical contrast with the angry abuse he hurls at Bardolph and Pistol, as he chases them out.

Scene 2

[5] The second part of the act is set in a garden with trees and flowers, depicted by the woodwind. To the left is Ford’s house. Mistress Page and Mistress Quickly approach Ford’s house and meet Mistress Ford and her daughter Nannetta, who are coming out. Alice Ford was just about to call on Meg Page, to enjoy a joke with her (Escivo appunto per ridere con te). They each seek to learn the other’s news, for something odd has happened to both of them; both have received strange letters.

[6] They exchange letters and the cor anglais introduces Meg’s reading of Alice’s letter: Fair Alice! I offer you love! (Fulgida Alice! amor t’offro). Soon they discover that the letters are identical, apart from the names of those to whom they are addressed, identical declarations of Falstaff’s affections. They find the whole thing greatly amusing, as they read out identical phrases in turn or together. They resolve to lead him on and make a fool of him (Dobbiam gabbarlo), and go on to mock his size, age, appearance and intentions. They go out, while Caius, Ford, Fenton, Bardolph and Pistol come in, all of them angry with Falstaff. Caius is still furious at the damage to his house and possessions, while Ford is amazed at the revelations of Bardolph and Pistol as to Falstaff’s plot against his wife. Young Fenton, in turn, would be happy to prick that hyperbolic apoplectic pot-belly (Di sfondar quella ventraia Iperbolico-apoplettica). For Ford, indeed, the whole thing is confused, like the buzzing of wasps, and if they would not all speak together, he might better understand what is happening (Se parlaste uno alla volta Forse allor v’intenderò).

[7] Ford tells Pistol to repeat his words, and this he does, to an accompaniment at first of bassoons and lower strings. In two words, he says, Falstaff wants to seduce his wife (L’enorme Falstaff vuole Entrar nel vostro tetto . . . E sconquassarvi il letto/Fat Falstaff wants to get into your house . . . and dishonour your bed). Bardolph interrupts to add that Falstaff has already written a letter and Pistol, resuming, declares that he was unwilling to deliver it, as, Bardolph assures them, was he. Bardolph adds a solemn warning that already the cuckold’s horns, like Actaeon’s, are sprouting from Ford’s head. Ford is resolved to watch his wife and Falstaff, his jealousy now further aroused. At this point the two groups, the women and the men, catch sight of each other, Fenton sees his Nannetta and she him (È Lei . . . È Lui/It is she . . . It is he). Mistress Ford is anxious to keep out of her husband’s way, answering with an emphatic affirmative Mistress Page’s question as to whether Ford is a jealous man (Ford è geloso?).

[8] Caius, Ford, Bardolph and Pistol go off, leaving Fenton, who whispers quickly to Nannetta, seeking two hurried kisses (Due baci). He praises the beauty of her lips and eyes, while she urges caution, and he quotes from Boccaccio the line Bocca baciata non perde ventura (A mouth kissed does not lose its attraction), which Nannetta caps with Anzi rinnova come fa la luna (Rather it is made new again like the moon). They move apart, as the other women return to a flurry of sound from now unmuted strings and cor anglais, soon joined by woodwind and brass. The women now resolve to make a fool of Falstaff by pretending to respond positively to his overtures: Mistress Quickly must take a message arranging a secret meeting with Alice Ford (un ritrovo galante Con me). They are delighted at the joke they are about to play, when Mistress Quickly sees someone coming, and the older women withdraw. The lovers are left alone once more, as Fenton returns to the assault (Torno all’assalto). He tries to kiss her, succeeding only in kissing her hair and now she is wounded by the dart of love, but he is her prisoner (Io son ferita Ma tu sei vinto). The scene between the two ends with the earlier couplet from Boccaccio, as they part, leaving the place free for the return now of Caius, Bardolph, Pistol and Ford, rejoined by Fenton. Ford now pledges Bardolph and Pistol to secrecy, as he plans to go to Falstaff in disguise.

[9] The men inveigh against Falstaff in a final ensemble. Caius still distrusts Bardolph and Pistol, while the latter urges Ford to ply Falstaff with wine. Ford is resolved on his plan, but Bardolph warns him that forewarned is only half saved. The women have returned, full of their plan to make a fool of Falstaff. The men go out, while they continue to plot the puncturing of Falstaff’s pride (Vedrai che quell’epa Terribile e tronfia Si gonfia . . . e poi crepa/You will see how that terrible bragging belly will swell up . . . and then burst). Alice Ford repeats the words of Falstaff’s letter in mockery: her face will shine on him like a star over the great deep (Ma il viso mio su lui risplenderà . . . Come una stella sull’immensità), at which they all burst out laughing and the act comes to an end.

 

Act II

Scene 1

[10] The second act opens in The Garter. Falstaff is sitting in his chair, drinking sack, joined now by Bardolph and Pistol, both expressing penitence (Siam pentiti e contriti/ We are penitent and contrite) and beating their breasts. They want to return to his service. Bardolph tells Falstaff that there is a woman waiting to be admitted. Mistress Quickly makes her obeisance to Falstaff, asking for a few words in secret and he grants her an audience, signalling his two followers to leave. She explains, with pauses for effect, how Alice Ford is madly in love with him, while Falstaff blandly accepts her compliments on his powers of seduction (Siete un gran seduttore! . . . Lo so/You are a great seducer! . . . I know). Mistress Ford’s husband is generally out between two and three (Dalle due alle tre), when he can easily meet her, poor lady, with her husband so jealous (ha un marito si geloso). Mistress Quickly now gets into her stride with a second message, this time from Mistress Page, la bella Meg, an angel whom to see is to love: her husband is not often away. Falstaff’s seductive abilities must be witchcraft, she adds, but Falstaff puts them down simply to personal fascination. He rewards Mistress Quickly, who takes her formal leave of him.

[11] Alice is his (Alice è mia), Falstaff exclaims in delight: Go, old Jack, go thy ways, he continues (Va, vecchio John, va, va per la tua via), he may be old, but he still has the power to attract women. Bardolph comes in, announcing the arrival of a certain Master Fontana, Master Brook, who has brought Cyprus wine as a present, a flow of generosity that Falstaff must welcome.

[12] Ford, disguised as Fontana (Brook), is ushered in by Bardolph, followed by Pistol bearing a demijohn. Ford carries a bag. He greets Falstaff with formality, begging his pardon for the intrusion and now going on to outline the alleged reason for his visit: he is a rich man who pleases himself. Bardolph and Pistol comment on the scene, in a whisper, before Falstaff dismisses them, allowing Ford to continue: gold, he says, opens every door and he seeks to pay for Falstaff’s help.

[13] Ford now explains that there is in Windsor a certain Alice, wife of one Ford, whom he has wooed in vain; she has left him neglected, dry in the mouth and disappointed, singing a madrigal (Negletto, a bocca asciutta, cantando un madrigale), the last word calling for singing embellishment. Love is like a shadow, Falstaff interjects, helped by Ford with the rest of the Shakespearean quotation: it flees if you pursue it. Ford goes on to tell Falstaff, who, after all is a gentleman, brave, sharp, eloquent, a man of war, a man of the world (Voi siete un gentiluomo prode, arguto, fecondo. Voi siete un uom di guerra, voi siete un uom di mondo) — here Falstaff makes a gesture of deprecation - that he will pay him to seduce Alice Ford, thereby opening the way for other suitors. Now Falstaff reveals that he already has an assignation arranged with her, a statement that elicits a strong reaction from Ford, who asks if Falstaff knows the husband. Now Falstaff claims that he knows Ford, who is a bumpkin (Quel tanghero!), an ox soon to be a cuckold; but it is late, he must make himself handsome for his rendez-vous, while Ford waits for him there.

[14] Ford does not know whether he is dreaming (È sogno? o realtà . . ./Is it a dream? Or is it real? ...), as he imagines two horns sprouting from his head. Gradually the terrible truth seems to dawn on him and he bursts out into a tirade of jealousy, vowing to catch his wife with Falstaff and take revenge. Falstaff, happily unaware, now returns, with a new doublet and hat and carrying a stick, prepared for his adventure. He invites Ford to accompany him part of the way, and there is a polite conflict as to who shall go through the door first, solved only when they agree to go out arm in arm together (Passiamo insieme!). The scene ends with a brief return of the music of Falstaff’s supposed amatory triumph.

Scene 2

[15] The scene is now set in a room in Ford’s house. At the back is a large window, with doors at the left and right, and one in the right-hand corner leading to a staircase. There is another staircase in the left-hand corner. Through the open windows the garden can be seen. Against the wall on the left, by a large fireplace, is a closed screen and on the other side of the room a wardrobe. There is a small table and chair, a sofa, with a lute lying on it, and high-backed chairs. There are flowers on the table. Alice and Meg Page are joined by Mistress Quickly, who gives them an account of her meeting with Falstaff, imitating his greeting Buon giorno, buona donna (Good morning, good lady) and her reply Reverenza; Falstaff swallowed all her flattery and will be coming between two and three (Dalle due alle tre). There is no time to lose, and Alice calls to the servants Ned and Will to bring in the laundry-basket. Nannetta has joined them and is in tears; her father has arranged that she marry Dr Caius, but is reassured by her mother and her friends, who have a low opinion of the doctor. Alice Ford tells the servants to put the laundry-basket down and to come, when they are called, to empty it into the river, with a sound anticipated in the music. The women busily set the stage, setting a chair by the table, on which Nannetta puts her lute. They open the screen, putting it between the fireplace and the basket. Now all is ready.

[16] Soon the play will begin (Fra poco s’incomincia la commedia), Alice declares; now the merry wives of Windsor will have their fun. Meg, Mistress Quickly and Nannetta must be ready to come to Alice’s assistance, if necessary. Falstaff is approaching, and they quickly take up their positions (Al posto! Al posto!).

[17] As Falstaff enters, Alice is playing the lute, to which he sings (Alfin t’ho colto raggiante fior/At last I pick you, radiant flower) and goes on to express the wish that Ford would die and allow her to become Lady Falstaff. To the accompaniment of two bassoons, he praises her, worthy of a king (Degna d’un Re), imagining her ornamented with his insignia, bejewelled. She, however, prefers greater simplicity. Falstaff proceeds to declare his passion (T’amo! e non è mia colpa../I love you! And it is not my fault . . .).

[18] In words from Henry IV Falstaff recalls his youth, with lively music to describe his early years as page to the Duke of Norfolk (Quand ero paggio del Duca di Norfolk ero sottile ero un miraggio, vago, leggero, gentile, gentile/When I was page to the Duke of Norfolk I was a wonder, attractive, light and so charming). Alice expresses the fear that he loves another, Meg, but he assures her that he cannot stand her appearance (M’è in uggia la sua faccia); he has waited a thousand years for the chance to embrace his beloved Alice. His attempts to carry this out are interrupted by Mistress Quickly, who enters in pretended agitation.

[19] Meg Page is coming and in some distress; Falstaff must hide and Alice pushes him behind the screen. Pursuing their plan, Meg tells Alice that her husband is coming, threatening to cut someone’s throat (Che vuol scannare un uomo!). This is pretence, but matters grow more serious at Mistress Quickly’s return with the news that Ford is really coming, bringing others with him, shouting and bellowing in anger. Ford orders the doors to be closed and sends his followers, including Caius, Bardolph and Pistol, to search the place, while he pulls out the dirty washing from the basket, in his search for Falstaff. As Ford continues his search in the rest of the house, Falstaff emerges and is induced to climb into the basket, to be covered with dirty linen. He takes the opportunity to declare his love for Meg, in the absence of Alice Ford, who has gone to call the servants. Fenton has seized the chance of being with Nannetta and in another snatched moment of love they embrace and hide behind the screen. Caius rushes in, shouting in pursuit of the thief (Al ladro!). All is confusion, as Ford urges Bardolph, Pistol and Caius on in their search for this rascal, falsifier and villain (Scagnardo! Falsardo! Briccon!).

[20] Behind the screen Fenton kisses Nannetta. Ford and the others hear this, and imagine they have caught Falstaff (C’è . . . C’è/There he is . . . There he is). As Ford prepares to flush the guilty pair out, Mistress Quickly and Meg Page pretend to busy themselves with the laundry, while the voice of Falstaff is heard complaining from the basket (Affogo!/I am suffocating!). Behind the screen Fenton sings of his love for Nannetta, who responds, while Ford, Caius, Bardolph and Pistol prepare for the assault. Each group is concerned in its own affairs, with music matching their preoccupations. At last Ford pulls the screen aside, revealing Nannetta and Fenton, venting his anger on the latter. Bardolph and Pistol claim to see Falstaff escaping and some of the men run after him, leaving the women to deal with the laundry-basket and Falstaff, tipped out of the window into the water below, to the delight and amusement of everyone, including Ford, whose wife has now appeared and drawn him to the window.

CD 2

Act III

Scene 1

[1] The new scene is set outside The Garter, with its inn-sign Honni soit qui mal y pense. By the door is a bench. It is sunset. Falstaff is sitting in a large chair, thinking, as the curtain rises after the briefest of introductions has reached a dynamic climax. He jumps up and strikes the table with his hand, calling for the inn-keeper (Ehi! Taverniere). Bitterly he contemplates the treachery of the world (Mondo ladro . . . Mondo rubaldo . . . Reo mondo!/Thieving world . . . Rascally world . . . Wicked world!). He orders a beaker of warmed wine from the landlord, who goes out to comply with the request and Falstaff complains how he, a brave and clever knight, could have been tipped into the water with a basket of dirty washing, to be drowned like a cat or a blind kitten; only his paunch kept him floating, but water makes him swell; now there is no virtue left in the world. In a reminiscence of the anticipated moment of his triumph as a lover, he repeats his earlier words (Va, vecchio John, va, per la tua via; cammina Finchè tu muoia/Go, old Jack, go thy ways; go on until you die); poignantly he sees his state and age (Impinguo troppo . . .Ho dei peli grigi/I am getting too fat . . . I have some grey hairs). The return of the landlord with wine revives him; now there is something to dilute the Thames water he has swallowed; wine awakens in the drinker’s brain that little black cricket that trills and trills, bringing joy to the world.

[2] Mistress Quickly interrupts his praise of wine, greeting him formally, as before (Reverenza). She starts to tell him of fair Alice, but he will have none of it. He is still angry at his discomfiture, a man like him forced to be doubled up in a laundry-basket, melting in the heat of it (D’esser rimasto curvo, come una buona lama Di Bilbào, nello spazio d’un panierin di dama!/To be left doubled up, like a good Bilbao sword, in a woman’s laundry-basket!). Mistress Quickly pleads for Alice, who truly loves him and now cries and laments, calling on the saints, poor lady (Alice piange, urla, invoca i santi. Povera donna!). She hands him a letter. Meanwhile Alice, Meg, Nannetta, Ford, Caius and Fenton have appeared, hidden by a neighbouring house, but doing their best to see what is going on, commenting on the way Falstaff now seems to be falling into the trap they have laid for him. Falstaff reads the letter that Mistress Quickly has given him; Alice is telling him to meet her at midnight in the royal park, by Herne’s Oak, disguised as the Black Huntsman himself. Mistress Quickly continues, in solemn tones, to remind Falstaff of the legend; the oak is a place of witchcraft, the place where the Black Huntsman hanged himself and where, some say, he now returns. Falstaff tells her to come into the inn with him and as she goes she continues her sinister tale. Now Alice emerges, with the others, imitating Mistress Quickly’s manner, evoking the slow approach of the ghostly Black Huntsman (E vien nel parco il nero Cacciator. Egli cammina lento, lento, lento/And the Black Huntsman comes into the park. He walks slowly, slowly, slowly). Alice’s manner changes. This is a grandmother’s tale for children, she says, before falling back into her sinister story; the fairies come out and from the Huntsman’s head sprout long, long horns. Ford is delighted at the idea and is sorry for his earlier suspicions of his wife.

[3] The women plan their disguises. Alice will be the Queen of the Fates, Nannetta is to be the Fairy Queen, Meg the green wood-nymph and Mistress Quickly a witch. Alice will have children with her, dressed as elves, imps and goblins, and they will torment Falstaff until he has confessed his wickedness. Night is coming, says Meg, and they go out, although the voices of the women can still be heard, as they remind one another of the final preparations to be made. Ford is left with Caius, to whom he now promises his daughter, Nannetta; he must remember that she will be disguised, wearing a garland of roses, a white dress and a veil, while Caius will be dressed as a friar; Ford will see them married there and then. Ford has been overheard by Mistress Quickly, who has come out of the inn and now calls to Nannetta.

Scene 2

[4] The scene is Windsor Park. In the middle is a great oak-tree, Herne’s Oak. In the background there is a bank and a ditch. There is dense foliage and bushes in flower and now it is night. The distant sound is heard of the foresters’ horns and, as the moon comes out, the scene gradually becomes clearer. Fenton enters, singing his song of ecstasy that has at last found the lips of another and he is together with his beloved. He repeats the earlier words of Boccaccio, Bocca baciata non perde ventura (A mouth kissed does not lose its attraction), capped at once by Nannetta with Anzi rinnove come fa la luna (But is made new again like the moon), as she comes in, dressed as the Fairy Queen. Alice enters, carrying a black cloak and a mask for Fenton, who now looks like a Trappist, Nannetta thinks. Mistress Quickly is dressed as the Epiphany witch and tells them that she plans to dress Bardolph, the rascal with the nose (Un gaio Ladron nasuto) that Caius hates, as the bride. Meg appears, dressed in green, and tells Alice that the imps and elves are hiding in the ditch behind them. They hide, as Falstaff is heard approaching.

[5] At the first stroke of midnight Falstaff appears, wearing a voluminous cloak and antlers and approaching the haunted oak-tree. He calls on the gods to help him, remembering how Jove wore horns, in the guise of a bull, when he seduced Europa. He hears Alice coming and calls to her, starting to declare his love for her. Alice, though, is not alone, as she tells him, since Meg is following her. This doubles Falstaff’s anticipated delight. There is a cry for help from Meg that the witches are coming (Vien la tregenda!) and Alice makes her escape, leaving Falstaff flattening himself against the oak, in an effort to hide.

[6] Nannetta is heard, as the Fairy Queen, calling her nymphs, elves, sylphs, dryads and sirens, since the magic star has risen in the sky. Falstaff is terrified at the sound, since to see the fairies means death. Now Nannetta is seen and Alice, with children dressed as white and blue fairies. Alice stations the smaller children around the Fairy Queen, with a group of bigger children to the left. Falstaff lies stretched out on the ground in fear, trying to hide from these spirits, for the sight of them means death. Nannetta, surrounded by her attendant spirits, sings an ethereal fairy song, bidding her fairies dance (Sul fil d’un soffio etesio Scorrete, agili larve/On the sweet breath of air run, agile spirits).

Her words and song reflect the beauty of the midnight scene, as she tells the fairies to gather flowers and to write secret names on them, for fairies use flowers as their charactery (Scriviam de’ nomi arcani, Dalle fatate mani/Let us write secret names, with our fairy hands). They approach the oak, as they sing.

[7] Alice returns, masked, with Meg as a green fairy and Mistress Quickly as a witch. Bardolph is wearing a red cloak, with a hood that hides his face, while Pistol is in the guise of a satyr. Dr Caius follows, wearing a grey cloak, without a mask; Fenton is in a black cloak, masked and Ford without a cloak, but masked. Other townsfolk follow in various guises, some carrying lanterns. Bardolph stumbles into Falstaff and calls a halt, while the supposed fairies exclaim that it is a man (C’è un uom!). With horns like an ox (Cornuto come un bue), adds Ford; round as an apple (Rotondo come un pomo), says Pistol; big as a ship (Grosso come una nave), says Bardolph. They tell him to stand up, but he claims he cannot and now they begin to taunt him. Bardolph proposes an exorcism, while Alice whispers to her daughter to hide herself, as Caius moves round, obviously looking for her. Mistress Quickly tells her to come back, when she calls, as Nannetta withdraws with Fenton, and Bardolph continues the ceremony, calling on all the spirits (Spiritelli! Folletti! Farfarelli! Vampiri! Agili insetti Del palude infernale! Punzecchiatelo! Orticheggiatelo!/Spirits! Elves! Imps! Vampires! Nimble insects from the marsh of Hell! Pinch him! Sting him!). They obey his command, and start to pinch and torment Falstaff, dancing round him and over him and causing him every torture they can. Caius, Ford, Bardolph and Pistol add their own measure of abuse (Cialtron! . . . Poltron! . . . Ghiotton! . . . Pancion!/Rascal! . . . Poltroon! . . . Glutton! . . . Pot-belly!), urging him to repent, until he begs for pardon. The insults continue, with blows from Bardolph and Pistol. The former, in his enthusiasm, allows his hood to fall back, and Falstaff recognises him, now returning some of the abuse he has received (Nitro! Catrame! Solfo! Riconosco Bardolfo! Naso vermiglio! Naso bargiglio!/Fire! Tar and brimstone! I recognise Bardolph! Red nose! Wattle nose!). He begs them to stop, while Mistress Quickly takes Bardolph aside, to be covered with a white veil for the mock-wedding. Alice now reveals Signor Fontana, Master Brook, as her husband, and Mistress Quickly tells Falstaff of his folly in imagining that two women could be so stupid as to fall for a dirty, fat old man, bald and corpulent. Falstaff realises that he has been made a fool of, a conclusion that brings only laughter from his tormentors.

[8] Falstaff seeks to retrieve something from the situation, as he has from other predicaments in which he has found himself; he is not only witty himself, but the cause of wit in others (Son io che vi fa scaltri. L’arguzia mia crea l’arguzia degli altri). Ford now announces the coming wedding of the Fairy Queen, Bardolph suitably disguised, and Dr Caius, who are brought forward. Alice brings forward, at the same time, Nannetta and Fenton, a second couple in a double wedding. They are married, but when Ford tells them to unveil, he realises what has happened. Caius has been tricked into marrying Bardolph, while Fenton is now married to Nannetta. Falstaff asks who is now the fool, and Alice tells them that all three are, Falstaff, Ford and Caius. Nannetta seeks pardon from her father.

[9] Ford grants it, to the delight of the company, and proposes that they should all now go and feast with Falstaff, who calls for a chorus to end the scene. This is a splendid fugue, started by Falstaff to the words Tutto nel mondo è burla (Everything in the world is a joke); Tutti gabbati! (Everyone is made fun of!), Ma ride ben chi ride la risata final! (But he laughs best who has the last laugh!). A technical achievement, for which Boito supplied a text after the music had been written, the comic fugue provides an end to the comedy and at least the suggestion of a moral to the tale, an echo to many such literary morals.

Keith Anderson

 

Ward Marston

In 1997 Ward Marston was nominated for the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for his production work on BMG’s Fritz Kreisler collection. According to the Chicago Tribune, Marston’s name is ‘synonymous with tender loving care to collectors of historical CDs’. Opera News calls his work ‘revelatory’, and Fanfare deems him ‘miraculous’. In 1996 Ward Marston received the Gramophone award for Historical Vocal Recording of the Year, honouring his production and engineering work on Romophone’s complete recordings of Lucrezia Bori. He also served as re-recording engineer for the Franklin Mint’s Arturo Toscanini issue and BMG’s Sergey Rachmaninov recordings, both winners of the Best Historical Album Grammy. Born blind in 1952, Ward Marston has amassed tens of thousands of opera classical records over the past four decades. Following a stint in radio while a student at Williams College, he became well-known as a reissue producer in 1979, when he restored the earliest known stereo recording made by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932. In the past, Ward Marston has produced records for a number of major and specialist record companies. Now he is bringing his distinctive sonic vision to bear on recordings released on the Naxos Historical label. Ultimately his goal is to make the music he remasters sound as natural as possible and true to life by ‘lifting the voices’ off his old 78rpm recordings. His aim is to promote the importance of preserving old recordings and make available the works of great musicians who need to be heard.


Close the window