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Scene i, The Garter Inn
The portly nobleman John Falstaff is at the Garter Inn with his buddies Bardolph and Pistol. Dr. Caius storms in. He’s furious because Falstaff’s companions got him drunk the previous night and robbed him. The unperturbed Falstaff brushes off the accusations and Dr. Caius is forced to retreat, still seething with anger.
Meanwhile Falstaff’s attention turns to bigger problems. With an outstanding bill to pay and no money to his name, Falstaff hatches a scheme to seduce Alice Ford and Meg Page (wives of rich citizens in Windsor) and finance his appetites through their favours. But Bardolph and Pistol experience an unforeseen ethical awakening, and refuse to deliver the love letters which Falstaff has prepared. After sending a page boy to courier the love notes, Falstaff reprimands his companions for their new-found sense of honour.
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.
In the midst of the commotion, Nannetta shares a few moments of tenderness with Fenton, a young man who loves her.
Scene i, The Garter Inn
Pretending to be sorry they’re no longer in his good graces, Bardolph and Pistol regain Falstaff’s company. Mistress Quickly arrives to declare that Alice Ford and Meg Page are both madly in love with Falstaff; she recommends pursuing Alice Ford, however, as her husband is away from two to three in the afternoon every day.
After Mistress Quickly departs, Bardolph shows in “Fontana” (Ford in disguise), a stranger who comes with a surprising proposition: he will give Falstaff money and wine to seduce Alice Ford. “Fontana” claims he’s in love with Alice, but thinks he’ll have a better chance of success if the more knowledgeable Falstaff were to lead the way and set a precedent, making Alice more susceptible to Fontana’s advances. Falstaff merrily agrees, boasting that he’s in fact going to see the lady that very afternoon. His new acquaintance is stunned, and behind his disguise, Ford rages with jealousy.
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 soggy Falstaff bemoans his treatment at the hands of the women. Quickly enters and assures him that Alice remains true to him and that his misadventure was caused by the servants. Alice, Meg, Nannetta, Ford, Dr. Caius and Fenton spy on the proceedings. Quickly gives Falstaff a note, in which Alice begs him to meet her at midnight at Windsor Great Park and to wear the disguise of a local legend, the Black Huntsman.
Alice announces to the group that they will continue their plot against Falstaff; that Nannetta will be dressed as the Queen of the Fairies, Meg will be a green wood nymph and Quickly a witch. Ford, now convinced of his wife’s loyalty, whispers to Caius that he will be married to the disguised Nannetta that night. Caius is delighted with the plan, but the matrimonial arranging has been overheard by Quickly, who has a counter-plan of her own.
Scene ii, Windsor Great Park
Falstaff appears dressed as the Black Huntsman. At midnight, Alice arrives and professes her love for him. But almost immediately she claims to hear approaching spirits and flees in mock terror.
Costumed as the Queen of the Fairies, Nannetta leads a group of disguised townspeople to pinch, poke and humiliate Falstaff until he repents his dissolute ways. Falstaff recognizes one of his attackers as Bardolph and understands that a trick has been played on him. Ford reveals that he was really the gentleman Fontana, and Mistress Quickly lambasts Falstaff for his attempts to corrupt two married women of impeccable virtue.
Dr. Caius now takes centre stage, with a figure in white by his side. They will be married by Ford. Just then Alice introduces another couple, making Ford’s ceremony a double-wedding. As the veils are lifted it turns out Caius has been married to Bardolph and Nannetta to Fenton. Caius and Ford are forced to admit that they too have been made to look foolish. Everyone prepares to feast and celebrate together, acknowledging that the world is a joke and laughter the only course of action.
A scene from the Canadian Opera Company/Teatro alla Scala/Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Metropolitan Opera/Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam co-production of Falstaff, 2013, Teatro alla Scala. Photo: Rudy Amisano
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