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Falstaff 1975

July 4 - August 19, 1975

The last of Verdi’s masterpieces…

…ranks as one of the greatest comic operas…

Music By
Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto By
Arrigo Boito

Synopsis

Act I

Scene I: The Garter Inn Windsor. Falstaff is composing two love epistles and is disturbed by the arrival of the pompous schoolmaster, Dr. Caius, who demands reparation from Falstaff against his “retainers” Pistol and Bardolph who have robbed him while he was drunk on the previous evening. He receives no satisfaction and leaves, swearing never to get drunk again. Falstaff berates his companions, not for robbing the old pedant but for being caught at it. He himself is in dire financial straits and he hopes to better himself by loosening the pursestrings of one or another of two attractive Windsor wives. Alice Ford and Meg Page. He has written two identical love letters to them. asking for an assignation, but Pistol and Bardolph, seeing no possibility of financial reward, refuse to act as his pander. Falstaff sends Robin, the inn pot-boy, off with the letters and then turns on the guilty pair, demanding what they mean when they talk of their “honour” (L’onore): can it fill an empty stomach or mend a broken leg? Flattery inflates it, pride corrupts it and it is worthless. His very delivery of this diatribe proves him to be full of a paradoxical kind of honour himself, and he turns the two out of doors.

Scene 2: A garden between the houses of Ford and Page. Meg and Alice have received their two letters and, after their initial outrage, are encouraged by Nanetta, Alice’s daughter, and their neighbour Mistress Quickly, to take some delicious revenge. They leave the garden to discuss it as Ford comes out of his house with Caius, complaining bitterly of his treatment at Falstaff’s hands, and by Bardolph and Pistol who are treacherously hoping to make a quick buck by betraying Falstaff’s intentions towards Ford’s wife. Ford, jealousy itself, views his impending cuckold’s horns with wrath and, to avoid the ladyfolk, goes back into the house to discuss the matter. Young Fenton, following Ford. snatches a few moments and kisses from his sweetheart Nanetta. He hides as the others all return, both groups deciding on how to exact their separate revenges: Alice, unknown to her husband, will make an assignation with Falstaff and then discomfort him with the feigned return of her jealous husband. Ford, for his part, is to go disguised as a Master Brook (Fontana) and bribe Falstaff to act as pander between him and his own wife and so unmask him if he is indeed having an affair with her.

Act II

Scene I: At the Garter Inn. Bardolph and Pistol hypocritically ask Falstaff’s forgiveness while introducing Mistress Quickly with a message from Alice. After obsequious greetings, Reverenza! she indicates that her old friend Alice may be prepared to receive Falstaff while her husband is out between two and three o’clock dalle due alla tre. She also brings him a message from Meg whose husband, alas, is seldom far from home. Quickly has hardly left when Master “Brook” is announced: he pays Falstaff handsomely to effect a meeting between himself and a certain Mistress Ford with whom he is infatuated. Falstaff hastens to agree. indicating that he has heard from the good lady already that her husband will be out dalle due alla tre. He goes to dress up for the occasion, leaving Ford in a paroxysm of jealous rage: has he let the jest go too far, only to find out that his wife is in fact unfaithful? and that the cuckhold’s horns (corna) may already be his? (E sogno? or realta? Am I awake or dreaming?) He is interrupted by Sir John’s splendiferous return and both leave the Inn to engage in the assignation.

Scene 2: Ford’s House. Quickly reports that all has gone well and Falstaff is on his way. The plan is to hide the old knight in the most undignified place, a basket of filthy laundry. and to empty him into the river. Their merriment is interrupted by Nanetta’s tears: she has just heard that her father has promised her hand in marriage to the odious Dr. Caius. Alice cheers her up by promising that it will be over her dead body. The others hide as Falstaff arrives and declares himself. To some pointed remarks from Alice concerning his girth, he informs her that as a youth, page to the Duke of Norfolk, he was considered remarkably attractive and slender (sottile). The wooing is rudely interrupted by the actual return of Ford and his cronies who turn the house upside down in an effort to find the cuckoo in the nest. At first Falstaff hides behind a screen, but as soon as Ford has left the room he is summarily stuffed into the laundry basket, which Ford has already searched. Ford returns. having remembered the screen. But this is now inhabited by Fenton and Nanetta and the sound of their kisses convinces Ford that his suspicions are all too justified. When the young couple are revealed, Ford and Caius are more indignant than ever, until Alice shows her husband the spectacle of the laundry basket, dirty sheets, Falstaff and all floating down the river Thames.

Act III

Scene I: The courtyard of the Garter Inn. Falstaff, back at the Inn, drying off, is disillusioned with life. He reviles the wickedness of the world (Mondo ladro!) but, fortified by plenty of mulled wine. he gradually recovers his spirits. Quickly appears with another note from Alice, apologizing for the afternoon’s debacle and asking for another assignation. Quickly slowly succeeds in regaining Sir John’s confidence: he is to disguise himself as Herne, the ghostly Black Huntsman, and to meet her at midnight under Herne’s oak in Windsor Forest. Their conversation is overheard by all the other plotters who relish their imminent revenge as Falstaff goes into the Inn with Quickly. When Quickly returns, she hears Ford promising Caius that he shall marry Nanetta that very night as part of their festivities.

Scene 2: Herne’s Oak, Windsor Forest. It is a moonlit night and everyone is in disguise: Fenton enjoys a stolen meeting with Nanetta who is masquerading as the Queen of the Fairies until Alice whisks him away and Falstaff approaches. Midnight sounds and their assignation is joined. His awkward love-making is interrupted again, this time by “supernatural” sounds. Alice flees “in terror” while Falstaff flings himself to the ground at the foot of the oak tree: it is damnation to look upon the fairy-folk. The whole company appears, variously disguised as elves, fairies, demons and other horrors: the whole village is there. They pretend to discover Falstaff by accident and give the “mortal” a sound thrashing to teach him to mend his ways. The masquerade falls apart when Falstaff recognizes Bardolph by his alcoholic breath, but the night of revenge is not over: the jealous husband and cruel father too has to be taught a lesson. Ford gives his blessing to a double wedding: Nanetta to Dr. Caius and Fenton to another veiled lady. Dr. Caius has “married” Bardolph, while Ford has unwittingly given his consent to Nanetta’s marriage with Fenton. In the merriment that follows all is forgiven: Falstaff suggests a final chorus to be followed by supper (but at Falstaff’s expense, Ford insists). The great fugue begins (Tutto nel mundo e burla): the world’s a fool and man was born for jesting. Everyone receives his just desserts, gets cheated and deluded (tutti gabbati), but the best laugh of all comes from him who laughs last.

Artists

Santa Fe Opera

Thomas Stewart

Baritone

Sir John Falstaff

Santa Fe Opera

Helen Vanni

Mezzo-soprano

Mistress Alice Ford

Santa Fe Opera

Jean Kraft

Mezzo-soprano

Mistress Meg Page

Santa Fe Opera

Betty Allen

Mezzo-soprano

Dame Quickly

Santa Fe Opera

Ruth Welting

Soprano

Nanetta

Chris Merritt headshot

Chris Merritt

Tenor

Dr. Caius

Santa Fe Opera

Douglas Perry

Tenor

Bardolf

Santa Fe Opera

William Dansby

Bass

Pistol

Santa Fe Opera

James Atherton

Tenor

Fenon

Brent Ellis

Brent Ellis

Baritone

Ford

Edo de Waart headshot

Edo de Waart

Conductor

Colin Graham headshot

Colin Graham

Director

Santa Fe Opera

Allen Charles Klein

Scenic Designer

Santa Fe Opera

Suzanne Mess

Costume Designer

Santa Fe Opera

Georg Schreiber

Lighting Designer

Santa Fe Opera

Terry Lusk

Chorus Master