Commedia lirica in three acts (1893)

Composer Giuseppe Verdi · Libretto by Arrigo Boito after The Merry Wives of Windsor and passages from King Henry IV by William Shakespeare
In Italian with German and English surtitles | New Production

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Cast for all dates

Pinchas Steinberg
Mateja Koležnik
Set Design
Raimund Orfeo Voigt
Costume Design
Ana Savić-Gecan
Magdalena Reiter

Sir John Falstaff
Wolfgang Koch (05-16-2021, 05-19-2021, 05-22-2021)
Boris Pinkhasovich (05-16-2021, 05-19-2021, 05-22-2021)
Bogdan Volkov (05-16-2021, 05-19-2021, 05-22-2021)
Dr. Cajus
Kevin Conners (05-16-2021, 05-19-2021, 05-22-2021)
Francesco Castoro (05-16-2021, 05-19-2021, 05-22-2021)
Callum Thorpe (05-16-2021, 05-19-2021, 05-22-2021)
Mrs. Alice Ford
Olga Bezsmertna (05-16-2021, 05-19-2021, 05-22-2021)
Elsa Benoit (05-16-2021, 05-19-2021, 05-22-2021)
Mrs. Quickly
Okka von der Damerau (05-16-2021, 05-19-2021, 05-22-2021)
Mrs. Meg Page
Dorottya Láng (05-16-2021, 05-19-2021, 05-22-2021)
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Sir John Falstaff, the enormous, immense Falstaff, as he enthusiastically calls himself, is in dire straits. His belly, his greatest pride, synonymous with his stateliness, requires constant maintenance in the form of an over-abundant supply of food and drinks. His means are therefore exhausted. Coupled with his magnificence as a real man, Falstaff’s cunning will come to his aid, he thinks: He composes identical love letters to Mrs Alice Ford and Mrs Meg Page, to captivate the ladies’ hearts and therewith also capture their husbands’ fortunes. The two “Merry Wives of Windsor” are, however, well able for the pretentious beau, as the (lyrical) comedy shifts into gear. 

Verdi’s last opera was only his second excursion into the comedy genre. Almost fifty years after his early piece, Un giorno di regno, was not a roaring success, he dared approach the Shakespearean material, congenially prepared by his librettist, Arrigo Boito. Falstaff should have spirit, Verdi wrote Boito, and he therefore extended the original, Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, with passages from Henry IV (where Shakespeare had Sir John Falstaff appear for the first time), didn’t scrimp on the literary references and poetic artifices, and invented some of the most wonderful tirades in literary history. Verdi followed the libretto with a detailed, fully composed tour de force full of wit and depth, in which the driving grotesque is set just as unrivalled in music as the lyrical moments are.

The Story

First Act

Scene 1

Dr Cajus makes serious allegations against Falstaff, who he accuses of rampaging like a madman and ravaging his house and possessions. Meanwhile, says the doctor, Falstaff’s sidekicks Bardolfo and Pistola made him drunk and emptied his pockets. While Falstaff confirms that he committed the despicable acts in question with pleasure, the other two accused deny the allegations. Satisfied with his companions’ defence, Falstaff dismisses the doctor who vows to drink only with respectable people in future.

Sir John has urgent business: The empty purse must be filled, for his renowned belly is in danger of shrinking. Therefore, he has penned identically-worded love letters to two rich ladies, Alice Ford and Meg Page. Once he has won the ladies’ hearts – in the eyes of this noble gentleman a foregone conclusion – he will, in turn, gain access to the coffers of their respective husbands. However, Bardolfo and Pistola refuse to deliver the letters. Their honour will not allow it. Falstaff is furious. Calling down curses upon the very idea of honour he chases Bardolfo and Pistola away.  He sees that the letters are delivered by other means.

Scene 2

Alice Ford is excited. If she wanted to, she tells her friend Meg Page, she could become an aristocrat. So too could she, replies her friend. Each of the women then shows the other a letter. They are Falstaff’s letters, offering love to each of them and requesting an answer. The women are outraged, both at the presumptuousness and at the identical wording of the letters. Together with Mrs Quickly and Alice’s daughter Nannetta the two decide to play a trick on Sir John. Mrs Quickly shall convey an invitation to a rendezvous with Alice. Should he respond to the invitation, they shall teach him a lesson.

Falstaff faces adversity on other fronts, too. Dr Cajus, Bardolfo, Pistola and the young Fenton, pester Alice’s husband Ford with complaints and warnings about Sir John’s licentiousness, offering to put a stop to it. Pistola reveals Falstaff’s plans. Ford is confident of his ability to defend himself. He intends to seek out Falstaff under a false name and set a trap for him.

Lovers Fenton and Nannetta take advantage of a moment alone for a romantic tête-à-tête and amorous frolics.

Second Act

Scene 1

As part of their pretence, Bardolfo and Pistola re-enter Falstaff’s service claiming to be remorseful. Sir John receives them back graciously. Mrs Quickly requests an audience. She delivers the two ladies’ replies. While Meg Page regrets, despite considerable interest in the expansive gentleman, that she will be unable to escape the clutches of her jealous husband, Alice Ford invites him to meet her between two and three o’clock. At this time her equally jealous husband will be out of the house. Falstaff accepts the invitation and dismisses the messenger Mrs Quickly.

No sooner has she left than the next visitor is announced. A gentleman by the name of Fontana requests to be given priority, drawing attention to the wine bottle in his possession. Falstaff receives Signor Fontana who is none other than Ford in disguise. He tells of his apparent heartache: Alice Ford, with whom he is in love, refuses to acknowledge him. If Falstaff, though, being a man of the world, were to seduce Alice, then this would perhaps break her resistance to his own advances. For his trouble, Ford in his guise as Fontana offers Falstaff a bag of gold. Falstaff magnanimously accepts. When he explains that he has already arranged a meeting with Alice, Ford nearly breaks character. While Falstaff gets dressed up in preparation for the rendezvous, Ford seethes with rage and jealousy.

Scene 2

The women are highly amused at Mrs Quickly’s report of her visit to Falstaff’s. Yet Nannetta does not join in the merriment. Her father, she tells her mother sobbing, wants to marry her off to old Dr Cajus. The women are outraged at this plan. Alice reassures Nannetta that she need not worry. In preparation for the revenge plot against Falstaff a large washing basket is produced.

Falstaff arrives as a cavalier, showering Alice with gushing compliments and dubious offers. She pulls back, claiming he actually loves Meg Page. Incensed, Falstaff rejects the accusation. The plot first goes according to plan. Falstaff just manages to find a hiding place when Meg Page appears and, feigning alarm, announces the arrival of the furious husband. Mrs Quickly adds to the commotion, as it transpires that Ford is actually on his way, seething with rage and accompanied by Bardolfo, Pistola, Dr Cajus and Fenton. The place in total uproar, the men search the house for Falstaff. Meanwhile, the women succeed in hiding the fugitive in the washing basket they prepared for this purpose. Fenton and Nannetta disappear into Falstaff’s previous hiding place. Ford is drawn to the sound of their kissing. In the expectation, soon to discover Falstaff and his wife he bursts in on the intimate scene together with Cajus, Bardolfo and Pistola. When the lovers are revealed to be Fenton and Nannetta, Ford angrily throws Fenton out saying he has told him often enough that he does not approve of their union.

While the men return to their search, the women, with the help of several servants, tip the protesting Falstaff, along with the dirty washing, into the canal.

Third Act

Scene 1

Falstaff bitterly takes stock of all that is wrong in the world. Once he has regained his strength with some mulled wine his mood though soon improves. Mrs Quickly’s appearance at first triggers Falstaff’s indignation, however she affirms Alice’s innocence, lays the blame on the staff and delivers an invitation to a new rendezvous. At midnight Alice will be expecting Sir John in the park. He should come in costume resembling a character from an ancient legend. While Falstaff and Mrs Quickly retire to engage in further conversation, the men and women congregate around Alice. They now work together under Alice’s direction to devise further trickery which will put Falstaff in his place once and for all. Alice scolds the overzealous Ford, saying he deserves to be punished himself for his jealousy.

According to Alice, the dark legend will create the atmosphere for her revenge. All the women should therefore disguise themselves. Nannetta will appear as the Queen of the Fairies and Alice intends to include further accomplices in spine-chilling costumes. While the women get on with their preparations, Ford secretly gives Dr Cajus instructions. Once the trick is over, Cajus, wearing a costume, should bring the disguised Nannetta to Ford who will then marry the two of them. However, the men do not notice Mrs Quickly eavesdropping on their conversation.

Scene 2

Alice interrupts the two lovers’ intimate moment and urges Fenton to put on a costume, the same as that worn by Dr Cajus.

Falstaff arrives in costume. He attempts to seduce Alice with declarations of love, but she acts as though distracted, saying that Meg Page is after her. In the background, Meg warns of the ghosts which haunt the area. The appearance of the masked figures causes Falstaff to lose his composure. Dr Cajus is on the lookout for Nannetta who is hiding along with Fenton. Falstaff is encircled by the ghostly horde. While being cursed and beaten he shows remorse for his deeds. Finally, Ford, Alice and Mrs. Quickly bring an end to the masquerade. When Falstaff has regained his composure he admits to having been an ass, but suggests that his peculiarities add zest to people’s otherwise mundane lives. Everyone enthusiastically agrees.

As the high point of the event, Ford announces the marriage of the Queen of the Fairies. Alice asks him to marry a second couple and Ford agrees. When, at the end of the ceremony, all veils and masks are lifted, Ford is appalled: Not only has he married Dr Cajus to the secretly veiled Bardolfo, but also Fenton to his daughter. Both Alice and Nannetta plead with him and he eventually concedes defeat, giving the union his blessing. Finally, the company concludes: The whole world is a farce; everyone is cheated; all mortals mock one another; he who laughs last, laughs longest.


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Wolfgang Koch studierte Gesang in München und war anschließend Ensemblemitglied am Stadttheater Bern, am Staatstheater Stuttgart und an der Wiener Volksoper. Er gastierte u. a. an den Opernhäusern in Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, Tokio, Zürich, Wien, Mailand, Paris und New York sowie bei den Festspielen in Bregenz, Salzburg und Bayreuth. Zu seinem Repertoire gehören Partien wie Scarpia (Tosca), Barak (Die Frau ohne Schatten), Wotan (Der Ring des Nibelungen), Mandryka (Arabella), Don Pizarro (Fidelio), Jochanaan (Salome) und die Titelpartien in Aribert Reimanns Lear und Paul Hindemiths Mathis der Maler. 2014 wurde er zum Bayerischen Kammersänger ernannt. (Stand: 2020)

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