Comic opera in three acts on a libretto by Arrigo Boito, da from Shakespeare, in particular, The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Première: Milan, Scala Theatre, February 9th, 1893.
At Windsor, in the 15th century. At the tavern of the Garter. Sir John Falstaff is accused by Cajus to be a thief, but the only answer the rotund Falstaff gives is to have him thrown out of the tavern. Then he calls his two servants, Bardolfo and Pistola, and illustrates his plan to rob two gentlemen of their purses and their wives. These two are Page and Ford: the servants are to go to the wives to deliver certain letters, but Bardolfo and Pistola refuse to go along with the plan of their employer: they say that they, at least, are men of honour and refuse to collaborate. So Falstaff fires them and gives the letters to a page to deliver. The two women receive the letters and agree with two others, young Nannetta Ford and Quickly, to play a trick on the fat old suitor. Bardolfo and Pistola have revealed Falstaff's plan in the meantime to Ford. Young Fenton, who is secretly in love with Nannetta, offers his services to punish him.
As usual, Sir John is at the tavern of the Garter. Quickly arrives to tell him that Alice Ford will receive him between two an three o'clock that afternoon.
Quickly leaves, and "mister Fontana" arrives, in reality Ford in disguise, who has some gold coins which he offers to Falstaff in return for help in winning the heart of Alice Ford. Naturally Falstaff accepts, boasting that he has an appointment that very day with the lady in question. Ford can only hide his surprise and chagrin, but as soon as Falstaff returns, the two leave together. In the meantime Quickly tells the other women the results of her mission. Nannetta gives vent to her feelings: her father has promised her to Doctor Cajus, but she wants to marry Fenton. Alice remains alone. Two servants bring in a laundry basket. Then Falstaff arrives and Alice listens to his advances, but keeps him at a safe distance. Quickly bursts onto the scene, saying that Meg Page is coming in, who, in turn, announces the arrival of Ford. Falstaff hides behind a screen. Ford, Fenton, Cajus, Bardolfo and Pistola come in, looking for Falstaff, in the laundry basket, and then in the rest of the house, but do not find him. As soon as they leave, Falstaff jumps into the basket; the two young lovers end up behind the screen. Ford returns, and, hearing the sound of a kiss behind the screen, discovers Nannetta and Fenton. The two escape, Bardolfo says he saw Falstaff stumbling down the stairs, and the rest of the troop rushes out to follow. In the meantime Nannetta returns with some servants and they empty the basket, where Falstaff is still hiding, into the Thames.
A square in front of the tavern of the Garter. Falstaff, soaking wet, is furious for the treatment given him, but Quickly reassures him: it was the fault of the servants. Alice Ford cannot wait to meet him. He goes that night to the royal park to meet her, and, in order to be recognised only by her, he dresses as the Black Hunter. When Falstaff and Quickly enter the tavern, the women gather in the square to make plans for the practical joke. Cajus and Fenton participate, as well as Ford, by now convinced of the fidelity of his wife: In the atmosphere of good spirits, he decides that in their nocturnal disguises, Nannetta and Cajus will be married that very night. But the ever-present Quickly has overheard and rushes off to warn the girl of the men's plan.
In Windsor park. Night falls, and Falstaff, dressed as the Black Hunter, listens to the song of the fairies. Alice arrives and pretends to listen to his amorous declarations. Suddenly, Meg arrives and announces a tragedy: a host of false fairies fall on the fat old man, pushing and pinching him, and hitting him with their sticks. When he has had enough, Ford comes forth and forgives him. All present then preside over the two marriage ceremonies: Ford blesses the couples, but at the last moment, realises that Nannetta is marrying Fenton and that the "bride" of Doctor Cajus is Bardolfo made up as the queen of the fairies. But what can be done, now. "All the world is a joke", is the conclusion.
Verdi was almost eighty years old when he made known that for the last forty years he had wanted to compose a comic opera, and said moreover that he had been familiar with Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor for over half a century.
In 1889 Arrigo Boito began work on the libretto of Falstaff, which he gave, completed, to the composer at the beginning of the following year (after having patched up some differences between them that had caused difficulties). With renewed spirit, perhaps because of his advanced years, Verdi started composing the music almost as a hobby, without problems of deadlines and with a feeling of total freedom. He worked in this way, carefree but nonetheless meticulous, until 1892, when he gave the completed score to the editors for printing. The première took place on February 9th, 1893 at the Scala in Milan; the conductor was Edoardo Mascheroni, with Victor Maurel in the role of Falstaff (baritone), Giuseppina Pasqua as Mrs. Quickly (mezzosoprano) and Emma Zilli as Mrs Alice Ford (soprano).
The audience was that of the grand gala, with the presence of literary and artistic personalities such as Carducci, Giacosa, Puccini and Mascagni.
Falstaff was the last opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi.