The first performance took place on February 9, 1893 at La Scala in Milan, Italy to great success. While not as immensely popular as the works that immediately preceded it, Aida and Otello, Falstaff has long been a critical favorite for its refinement and melodic invention.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, February 9, 1893|
(Conductor: Edoardo Mascheroni)
|Sir John Falstaff, a fat knight||baritone||Victor Maurel|
|Ford, a wealthy man||baritone||Antonio Pini-Corsi|
|Alice Ford, his wife||soprano||Emma Zilli|
|Nannetta, their daughter||soprano||Adelina Stehle|
|Meg Page||mezzo-soprano||Virginia Guerrini|
|Mistress Quickly||contralto||Giuseppina Pasqua|
|Fenton, one of Nannetta's suitors||tenor||Edoardo Garbin|
|Dr Caius||tenor||Giovanni Paroli|
|Bardolfo, a follower of Falstaff||tenor||Paolo Pelagelli-Rossetti|
|Pistola, a follower of Falstaff||bass||Vittorio Arimondi|
|Mine Host of the Garter Inn||Silent||Attilio Pulcini|
|Robin, Falstaff's page||Silent|
Falstaff is surrounded by his servants Bardolph, Pistola and the innkeeper, when Dr. Caius arrives and accuses him of robbery, but the excited doctor is soon ejected. Falstaff hands letters to his servants for delivery to Mistress Ford and to Mistress Page. The letters, which purport of Falstaff's love for the respectable women, are intended to seduce them (although he is really seducing them for the money). Bardolph and Pistol refuse, however, claiming that 'honor' prevents them from obeying his orders. Sending the letters by a page instead, Falstaff confronts his servants ('Che dunque l'onore? Una parola!' -- 'What, then, is honor? A word!') and chases them out of his sight.
Alice and Meg have received Falstaff's letters, both of identical contents. They exchange them, and in conjunction with Mistress Quickly, resolve to punish the knight. The three are also none too pleased with Master Ford, who is intending to give his daughter Nannetta in marriage to Dr. Caius. This, they resolve, will not happen. Meanwhile, Ford has been apprised of the letters by Bardolph and Pistol. All three are thirsty for vengeance. A brief love duet between Fenton and Nannetta follows; the women return home and, through Mistress Quickly, a maid, invite Falstaff to an assignation. The men also arrive upon the scene, and Bardolph and Pistol are persuaded to introduce Ford to Falstaff under an assumed name.
Bardolph and Pistol (now in the pay of Ford), pretending to beg for forgiveness for past transgressions, announce to their master the arrival of Mistress Quickly, who delivers the invitation. Ford is now introduced as Signor Fontana, who offers money to the fat knight to intercede for him with Mistress Ford. Falstaff agrees with pleasure, and while he attires himself in splendid array in his chamber, Ford is consumed with jealousy ('È sogno o realtà?' -- 'Is it a dream or reality?').
A room in Ford's house
As Mistress Quickly announces the coming of Falstaff, Mistress Ford has a large clothes basket placed in readiness. Falstaff's attempts to seduce the lady are cut short as Mistress Quickly reports the arrival of Master Ford. When the angry Ford with his friends appear to capture Falstaff, the latter hides in the basket. In the meantime, a love scene between Fenton and Nannetta takes place behind the screen, and the men returning, hear the sound of a kiss; they think to entrap Falstaff, but find Fenton, who is ordered by Ford to leave. When the men again proceed with the search, the women order the wash basket to be thrown into the ditch, where Falstaff is compelled to endure the jeers of the crowd.
Falstaff, in a gloomy mood, curses the sorry state of the world. Some mulled wine, however, soon improves his mood. The fat knight again receives an invitation through Mistress Quickly, which is overheard by the men. After Falstaff, dubious at first, has promised to go to Herne's Oak dressed as the Black Huntsman, the place of meeting, he enters the house with Mistress Quickly, and the men concoct a plan for his punishment. Dr. Caius is promised the hand of Nannetta, and is told of her disguise. The plot is overheard by Mistress Quickly.
Herne's Oak in Windsor Park
A moonlit midnight. The women disguise Fenton as a monk, and arrange that he shall spoil the plans of Dr. Caius. Falstaff's love scene with Mistress Ford is interrupted by the announcement that witches are approaching, and the men disguised as elves and fairies thrash Falstaff soundly. When their vengeance is satisfied, Dr. Caius finds that he has captured Bardolph instead of Nannetta in the garb of a fairy queen, but Fenton and Nannetta, with the consent of Ford, are joined in wedlock. Falstaff, pleased to find himself not the only dupe, proclaims in a fugue that all the world is folly and all are figures of fun (Tutto nel mondo è burla... Tutti gabbati!).
(Falstaff, Ford, Fenton, Mrs. Ford, Mistress Quickly)
Opera House and Orchestra
|1957|| Tito Gobbi,|
| Herbert von Karajan,|
Philharmonia Orchestra and chorus
| Audio CD: EMI Classics|
Cat: CDM 5 67083 2
|2001|| Bryn Terfel,|
| Claudio Abbado,|
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and chorus
| Audio CD: DGG|
Cat: 289 471 194-2
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