Falstaff, ossia le tre burle, 1799)
Opera comica in two acts
Music by Antonio Salieri
Libretto by Carlo Prospero Defranceschi, after The Merry Wives of Windsor
English translation by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray
The Deanery garden, July 2003
Theatre Royal Bath, March 2004
|Mrs Alice Ford||Amanda Pitt|
Mrs Slender, friend of Mrs Ford
|Mr Ford||Mark Wilde|
|Mr Slender||Adam Green|
|Sir John Falstaff||Mark Saberton|
|Betty, servant to Mrs Ford||Ilona Domnich|
|Bardolfo, servant to Falstaff||Nicholas Merryweather|
|Assistant director||Harry Fehr|
Chorus Jennifer French, Anne Hichens, Annabel Molyneaux, Harriet Molyneaux, Jo Parton, Robyn Parton, Helen Semple, Alan Poppleton, Andrew Hichens, Mike Probert, Damian Riddle
On-stage band Three Pressed Men
Sir John Falstaff, a retired and corpulent soldier, gatecrashes a party held by Mrs and Mrs Slender at their home in Windsor. Heavily in debt, he decides to woo Mrs Slender and her friend Mrs Ford, as a route to their husbands’ wallets. From his room at the Capricorn Inn, he sends them identical love letters, causing them to plot revenge for his affrontery. Mr Ford returns from a short absence, and his suspicions about his wife’s fidelity are fuelled by the revelations of Falstaff’s servant, Bardolph.
Falstaff is visited first by Mrs Ford, disguised as a German woman, and then by Mr Ford, disguised as Mr Brook. Falstaff agrees to visit Mrs Ford when her husband is out; Ford plots to catch them in flagrante.
At the Ford’s house, the wives prepare the first trick on Falstaff. Falstaff’s overtures to Mrs Ford are interrupted by Betty, who pretends that Ford is at the door. Falstaff is bundled into a laundry basket. Just as the servants are summoned to take the basket away and tip its contents into the Thames, Ford indeed returns, and orders his soldiers to search the house. Nevertheless the basket is successfully removed, and everyone mocks Ford for his unjustified jealousy.
The women, fired by success, plan more tricks on Falstaff. Betty visits Falstaff (sodden, and less enthusiastic) to set up another assignation with Mrs Ford. Again ‘Mr Brook’ learns of the plan directly from Falstaff, and hears how he was fooled by the laundry basket.
Once again, Falstaff’s attempts to woo Mrs Ford are interrupted by the imminent return of the angry husband. For their second trick, the women disguise him as the cook’s old aunt, a woman whom Ford hates with vehemence. When Ford and his gang arrive, they are sure Falstaff must be again hiding in the basket. When it is revealed to be empty, Ford takes it out on the ‘cook’s aunt’ and beats ‘her’ out of the house. The wives decide enough is enough, and go off to reveal their games to their husbands.
Falstaff is again visited by ‘Mr Brook’ and the ‘German lady’ who set up the third trick: he is to dress up as the mythical Herne the Hunter, complete with horns, and meet Mrs Ford at Herne’s Oak in the Forest of Windsor at midnight. The wives meet him there and indulge his flattery until they run away and desert him. Scared, he imagines he is bewitched. Mrs Ford appears as the Queen of the Fairies; her entourage mercilessly tease and torment Falstaff, before revealing their true identities and extracting the promise from Falstaff that he will err ‘no more’