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ClassicsOnline Home » VERDI: Falstaff
"a Falstaff to savour and one that will surely bear reptition "
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901): Falstaff
Giuseppe Verdi's active career as a composer spans a good
part of the nineteenth century. He was born in 1813 at Le Roncole, near Busseto
in the Duchy of Parma, the son of an inn-keeper, and distinguished himself
locally in music, playing the organ in church from the age of nine. The
encouragement and patronage of his future father-in-law, Antonio Barezzi, a
merchant in Busseto, allowed him further private study in Milan, where he
failed to gain entry to the Conservatory, before his return to Busseto as
organist and then, in 1836, the year of his marriage to Barezzi's daughter Margherita,
as town maestro di musica. His first venture into opera, a reasonably
successful one, was with Oberto, conte di S. Bonifacio, staged at La
Scala, Milan, in 1839. This was followed, however, by the failure of Un
giorno di regno (King for a Day), written at a period when the composer
suffered the death of his wife and two children. The following year, 1841, he
met the singer Giuseppina Strepponi, for many years his mistress and then his
wife. 1842 brought significant success with the staging of Nabucco at La
Scala, the true start of a career that brought opera after opera in years that
Verdi was to describe as his time in the galley.
Verdi's subsequent career in Italy brought him unrivalled
fame, augmented by his reputation as a patriot and fervent supporter of Italian
unity and independence. His name itself came to be treated as an acronym for
Vittorio Emanuele Re d'Italia (Victor Emmanuel King of Italy), and much of his
work in the period of unification was susceptible to patriotic interpretation.
His long association with Giuseppina Strepponi, who had been of material
assistance in the acceptance of Nabucco by La Scala, led to their eventual
marriage in 1859, the year of the opera Il ballo in maschera (The Masked
Ball). His last opera, Falstaff, was completed in 1893, four years
before her death, but Verdi now felt himself unequal to further Shakespearian operas
that were then proposed. He died while staying in Milan, early in 1901, his
death the subject of national mourning throughout Italy.
In the nineteenth century the plays of Shakespeare exercised
renewed fascination over the romantic imagination. Where his freedom from
classical dramatic conventions had, in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth
century, seemed primitive, the richness of his imagination and language and his
very freedom from these rules, now seen as restrictive, had a special appeal to
a new generation. This was reflected in the theatre itself, in translations, in
art and in music. In Paris Berlioz was overwhelmed by the plays he saw, while the
Mendelssohn family in Berlin was, at the same time, enjoying new German
translations. As early as 1843 a Shakespearian subject had been suggested to
Verdi. This was King Lear, a proposal that he rejected at the time. In
1847 he completed his very successful Macbeth, a strong subject in its
drama and equally attractive in the exoticism of its Scottish setting. Other plays
by Shakespeare were variously proposed as proper subjects for operatic
treatment, including Hamlet and The Tempest. It was not, however, until
1879 that he was persuaded to undertake an opera based on Shakespeare's Othello,
with a libretto by Arrigo Boito. This had its first performance at La Scala in
1887 and was to be followed by one more opera, this time on a comic subject.
Boito by 1889 had aroused Verdi's interest and enthusiasm for his treatment of Shakespeare's
The Merry Wives of Windsor. The score of Falstaff was completed
in December 1892 and the opera given its first performance at La Scala in
Verdi's eightieth year, 1893.
The librettist and composer Arrigo Boito had been born in
Padua in 1842, the year of Verdi's first great success with Nabucco.
He is best remembered for his only completed opera, Mefistofele, and for
his collaboration with Verdi, with whom he established a warm relationship.
Their first meeting had been in Paris in 1862, when Boito had supplied the text
for the cantata Inno delle nazioni (Hymn of the Nations), intended for
performance at the Great London Exhibition, but initially rejected by the
organizers. Relations with Verdi were later soured by the criticisms that
Boito, as a member of the angry young men of the Scapigliatura, levelled
at leading Italian composers of the time, whom he accused of defiling the
altars of Italian music, Matters were mended only in 1879, when the publisher
Giulio Ricordi and Boito's friend and collaborator Franco Faccio brought the
two men together, allowing them to work together on Othello, once Boito
had proved himself by his revisions to Simon Boccanegra.
The Merry Wives of Windsor, with its comic intrigue
and gulling of Falstaff, had attracted composers of comic opera in the
eighteenth century, including the French violinist-composer Papavoine with Le
Vieux coquet, ou les deux amies (The Old Philanderer, or The Two Friends)
in 1761, Philidor in 1773 with Herne le chasseur (Herne The Huntsman),
Dittersdorf in 1796 with Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor und der dicke Hans
(The Merry Wives of Windsor and Fat Hans), Peter Ritter in Mannheim in 1794
and, with greater success, Antonio Salieri, in his Falstaff in 1799 in Vienna.
The new century brought, in 1838, a version of the work for London by Balfe
and, in 1856, a one-act Falstaff for Paris from Adolphe Adam. Most
successful of all, before Verdi, was Otto Nicolai's Die lustigen Weiber von
Windsor, completed in 1849, the composer's last opera. This retains a place
in operatic repertoire and is familiar, at least in part, to concert audiences.
Boito, still more than Nicolai, draws on other plays by
Shakespeare to fill out the portrait of Falstaff himself, who can only be fully
understood by recourse to the two history plays that make up Henry IV. Elements
from these plays constitute an important element in Boito's libretto. In other
respects the action is simplified and the number of characters reduced. Justice
Shallow, Slender, Sir Hugh Evans, Page and his son, Nym and the servants Simple
and Rugby disappear, Anne Page becomes Nannetta Ford, her maladroit lover now
only Dr Caius. The love between Fenton and Nannetta appears as a continuing
thread in the drama, coming in snatches. Sprinkled, as Verdi suggested, like
sugar on a tart, rather than collected together. The language used by Boito
includes archaic elements, with notable reference to Boccaccio’s
Decamerone in language and interestingly varied metrical
techniques. He succeeds in associating Shakespeare with Italian cultural
tradition, the source of many of the latter’s plots and setting of so many of
Verdi, as always, paid attention to every detail of the
first performance. The illness and death of Boito’s friend Faccio, who would
have conducted it, led to the choice of Edoardo Mascheroni, to whom Verdi later
referred as the ‘third author’ of the opera, as he undertook the direction of
performances elsewhere in Italy, Germany and Austria. The title-role was taken
by the French baritone Victor Maurel, who had created Iago at La Scala in 1887,
and the parts of Fenton and Nannetta were taken by Edoardo Garbin and his
future wife Adelina Stehle, those of the Fords by Antonio Pini-Corsi. a future
Falstaff himself, and Emma Zilli. Mistress Quickly, a more respectable
character than in Shakespeare, was sung by Giuseppina Pasqua, now a mezzo-soprano.
The work was an immediate success in Milan, as elsewhere. Verdi made some
revisions for performances in Rome, followed by stagings elsewhere in Italy and
abroad. The opera crowned his career with a work in which he claimed he was now
pleasing himself, able to take his time and to respond musically to every element
of an inspired libretto. The work is essentially an ensemble opera, generally
preferring change and sparkling variety to the stock extended numbers of operatic
convention. The score is allusive and all in all a tour de force in its
operatic metamorphosis of the original play and its central ch1lfacter, a
remarkable end to a remarkable career.
Act I Part 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 dormi sot to 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. He
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.
 Falstaff 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 ondiam, la
nolle, 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.
 Now is the time, Falstaff tells them, to sharpen
their wits (Ma e 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 e 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.
 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 (Puo 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 e chirurgo Che e 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.
Act I Part 2
 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.
 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 que/la 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' intendero).
 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 (Lei... 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 e geloso?).
 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
 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 sonferita 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
 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 risplendera... Come una stella sull' immensita), at which they all
burst out laughing and the act comes to an end.
Act II Part 1
 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.
 Alice is his (Alice e 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.
 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.
 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,
facondo 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.
 Ford does not know whether he is dreaming (E sogno?
o realtii.../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.
Act II Part 2
 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.
 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!).
 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 e mia colpa/I love you! And it is
not my fault...).
 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'e 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
 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
 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!
 Behind the screen Fenton kisses Nannetta. Ford and the
others hear this, and imagine they have caught Falstaff (C'e C'e/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
Act III Part 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 Finche tu muoia/Go, old Jack, go
thy ways; go on until you die); poignantly he sees his state and age (lmpinguo
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
 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 he doubled up in a laundry-basket, melting in the heat of
it (D' esser rimasto curvo, come una buona lama Di Bilbdo, nello spazio d'un
panierin di dama!/To he 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. They plan their disguises.
Nannetta is to he 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.
Act III Part 2
 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.
 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 love wore horns, in the guise of 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.
 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.
 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'e un uom!). With horns
like an ox (Cornuto come un bue), adds Ford; round as an apple (Rotondo
come un porno), 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 inset ti 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 (Cialtran!... Palrron!... 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 recognize
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
 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 fascaltri L'
arguzia mia crea I' 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 realizes 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.
 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
ne/ mondo e burla (Everything in the world is a joke); Tutti gabbati! (Everyone
is made fun of!), Ma ride ben chi ride La risatafinal! (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
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