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Act I

Scene i, The Garter Inn
Dr. Caius bursts into Sir John Falstaff’s room in the Garter Inn, accusing him of unseemly behaviour the previous night. He further accuses Falstaff’s two henchmen, Bardolph and Pistol, of having robbed him while he was drunk. Unable to obtain reparations, Dr. Caius leaves in a fury.

Falstaff contemplates the large bill he has run up at the inn. He informs Bardolph and Pistol that in order to repair his finances he plans to seduce Alice Ford and Meg Page, both wives of prosperous Windsor citizens. When Bardolph and Pistol refuse to deliver the letters Falstaff has written to the two ladies, Falstaff instructs a page to do so instead. He then ridicules Bardolph and Pistol’s newly discovered sense of honour, before throwing them out of his room.

Scene ii, The Garter Inn
Meg Page and Alice Ford discover they’ve received identical love letters from Falstaff, and decide to teach him a lesson with the help of their friend Mistress Quickly, as well as Alice Ford’s daughter Nannetta.

While the women busily plot their revenge, Ford arrives with Dr. Caius, whom Ford considers suitable husband material for his Nannetta. Bardolph and Pistol – recently dismissed from Falstaff’s entourage –arrive in search of gainful employment. They disclose Falstaff’s scheme of seduction to Ford, who becomes mad with jealousy and insists he will disguise himself and visit the rogue in person.

Act II

Scene i, The Garter Inn
Alice Ford and Meg Page laugh over the identical love letters they have received from Sir John Falstaff. They share their amusement with Alice’s daughter Nannetta, and with their friend Mistress Quickly.

Ford arrives, followed by four men all proffering advice: Dr. Caius, whom Ford favours as Nannetta’s future husband; Bardolph and Pistol, who are now seeking advantageous employment from Ford; and Fenton, who is in love with Ford’s daughter Nannetta. When Ford learns of Falstaff’s plan to seduce his wife, he immediately becomes jealous.

While Alice and Meg plan how to take revenge on their importunate suitor, Ford decides to disguise himself in order to pay a visit to Falstaff. Unnoticed in the midst of all the commotion, Nannetta and Fenton manage to steal a few precious moments together.

Scene ii, Ford's House
Nannetta tearfully tells her mother that Ford has promised her to Dr. Caius in marriage although she loves Fenton. Her mother tells her not to worry.

Falstaff swaggers in and begins his wooing. With everything going according to plan, Meg Page interrupts – as intended – to give a false report that Ford is due to arrive any moment. But Mistress Quickly suddenly appears and tells Alice that her jealous husband really is approaching. In desperation, Falstaff looks for a hiding place and ends up concealed in a laundry basket. Ford and a small crowd of townspeople storm in and begin ransacking the house. The sound of kissing is heard. Ford moves closer to the source, ready to pounce upon his wife and her lover, but instead he discovers Nannetta and Fenton in an amorous embrace. As Ford unleashes his fury on Fenton, Alice orders her servants to tip the contents of the laundry basket out the window and Falstaff is thrown straight into the River Thames.


Scene i, Outside the Garter Inn

A wet and bruised Falstaff laments the wickedness of the world, but soon cheers up with a glass of mulled wine. Mistress Quickly persuades him that Alice was innocent of the unfortunate incident at Ford’s house. To prove that Alice still loves him, she proposes a new rendezvous that night in Windsor Great Park. In a letter which Quickly gives to Falstaff, Alice asks the knight to appear at midnight, disguised as the Black Huntsman.

Ford, Nannetta, Meg and Alice prepare the second part of their plot: Nannetta will be Queen of the Fairies and the others, also in disguise, will help to continue Falstaff’s punishment. Ford secretly promises Caius that he will marry Nannetta that evening. Mistress Quickly overhears them…

Scene ii, Windsor Great Park

As Fenton and Nannetta are reunited, Alice explains her plan to trick Ford into marrying them. They all hide as Falstaff approaches. On the stroke of midnight, Alice appears. She declares her love for Falstaff, but suddenly runs away, saying that she hears spirits approaching.

Nannetta, disguised as the Queen of the Fairies, summons her followers who attack the terrified Falstaff, pinching and poking him until he promises to give up his dissolute ways. In the midst of the assault Falstaff suddenly recognizes Bardolph, and realizes that he has been tricked. While Ford explains that he was ‘Brook’, Mistress Quickly scolds Falstaff for his attempts at seducing two younger, virtuous women. Falstaff accepts that he has been made a figure of fun, but points out that he remains the real source of wit in others.

Dr. Caius now comes forward with a veiled figure dressed in white. They are to be married by Ford. Alice brings forward another couple, who also receive Ford’s blessing. When the brides remove their veils it is revealed that Ford has just married Fenton to Nannetta, and Dr. Caius to Bardolph! With everyone now laughing at his expense, Ford has no choice but to forgive the lovers, and bless their marriage.

Before sitting down to a wedding supper with Sir John Falstaff, the entire company agrees that the whole world may be nothing but a jest filled with jesters, but he who laughs last, laughs best!

Robert Carsen

Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Mistress Quickly and Gerald Finley as Sir John Falstaff in the Canadian Opera Company production of Falstaff, 2014. Conductor Johannes, director Robert Carsen, set designer Paul Steinberg, costume designer Brigitte Reiffenstuel, and lighting designers Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet. Photo: Michael Cooper


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