Falstaff (Giuseppe Verdi)
  • Giuseppe Verdi. Commedia lirica in three acts. 1892.
  • Libretto by Arrigo Boito, after Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.
  • First performance at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on 9th February 1893.
Sir John Falstaff baritone
Fenton tenor
Dr Caius tenor
Bardolfo (Bardolph), follower of Falstaff tenor
Pistola (Pistol), follower of Falstaff bass
Mrs Alice Ford soprano
Ford, her husband baritone
Nannetta, their daughter soprano
Mistress Quickly mezzo-soprano
Mrs Meg Page mezzo-soprano
Host of The Garter Inn silent role
Robin, Falstaff’s page silent role
Ford’s page silent role

At the Garter Inn Falstaff quarrels with Dr Caius over an earlier drunken episode. He sends his page with love letters to Mrs Page and Mrs Ford, who, in the following scene, plan their revenge together, while Falstaff’s follower Pistol tells Ford what is happening. Nannetta, daughter of the Fords, has a brief moment of love with Fenton. The plot against Falstaff is carried forward through Mistress Quickly, who makes an appointment for him with Mrs Ford. Ford himself appears at the inn, in disguise, offering a bribe, if Falstaff will pave the way for him by seducing Mrs Ford. Learning of the assignation already arranged, Ford is jealous. In the following scene, at Ford’s house, the women prepare a laundry-basket for the trick they will play on Falstaff, while Mrs Ford assures Nannetta of her opposition to her father’s proposed match for her with Dr Caius. The arrival of the jealous Ford leads to Falstaff’s concealment in the laundry-basket, covered with dirty linen, while attention is distracted by Nannetta and Fenton, behind a screen, and mistaken by Ford and his band for Falstaff. The scene ends with Falstaff tipped into the river, but, still believing in Mrs Ford’s love for him, he is lured into a supposed assignation at midnight in Windsor Forest. There he is tormented by what he supposes to be fairies. In the end, while Fenton and Nannetta are united and Dr Caius frustrated, Falstaff accepts what has happened stoically.

Verdi’s last opera was given its first performance some six years after his earlier Shakespearean opera Otello (Othello), staged at La Scala, Milan, in February 1887. It takes the composer, now in old age, into a new world of comedy, with a text that he can treat more responsively than ever. The score contains a wealth of rich invention and the opera ends with a fugue, introduced by Falstaff’s Tutto nel mondo è burla (Everything in the world is a joke). A moment of pathos may be heard in Falstaff’s account of his handsome youth, Quand’ero paggio del Duca di Norfolk (When I was page to the Duke of Norfolk). Fenton’s loving Del labbro il canto estasiato vola (From my lips ecstatic song takes flight) opens the final scene in Windsor Forest, where Falstaff, disguised and wearing antlers, hears midnight strike, the notes striking with a fascinating harmony for each stroke of the bell.