Falstaff (Verdi)

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Work data
Title: Falstaff
Lucien Fugère as Falstaff (1894)

Lucien Fugère as Falstaff (1894)

Shape: Commedia lirica in three acts
Original language: Italian
Music: Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto : Arrigo Boito
Literary source: William Shakespeare :
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 2
Premiere: February 9, 1893
Place of premiere: Teatro alla Scala , Milan
Playing time: approx. 2 ¾ hours
Place and time of the action: Windsor (Berkshire) in England around 1400
  • Sir John Falstaff ( baritone )
  • Ford, Alice's husband (baritone)
  • Fenton, in love with Nannetta ( tenor )
  • Dr. Cajus (tenor)
  • Bardolfo, in Falstaff's service (tenor)
  • Pistola, also ( bass )
  • Mrs. Alice Ford ( soprano )
  • Nannetta, her daughter (soprano)
  • Mrs. Quickly, friend of Alice Ford ( mezzo-soprano )
  • Mrs. Meg Page, also (mezzo-soprano)
  • The landlord, Falstaff's page Robin, a page at Ford ( silent roles )
  • Citizens of Windsor (choir)
Adelina Stehle, the first Nannetta (1893)
Crowds in front of the Scala (1893)

Falstaff is an opera (original name: "Commedia lirica") in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi . Arrigo Boito's libretto is based on William Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor , including scenes from Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2 . The premiere took place on February 9, 1893 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Falstaff is Verdi's second comic opera and at the same time his last work for the stage.


first act

First picture: In the inn to the Garter

Dr. Cajus bursts into the inn and accuses Falstaff of breaking into his house and riding his horse to shame. In addition, Falstaff's servants Bardolfo and Pistola are said to have stolen from him. Falstaff admits that his servants deny it. However, Cajus does not know which of the two it was, and so Falstaff judges that he must dismiss the lawsuit. Cajus vows to only get drunk with decent people in the future and leaves. When the landlord comes to present the bill to Falstaff, he has to realize that he is broke. In order to get fluent again, however, he wrote two letters of the same name to Mrs. Alice Ford and Mrs. Meg Page. He believes they will succumb to his charm and open up their husbands' coffers for him. Bardolfo and Pistola are supposed to deliver the letters to the women. They refuse: their honor forbids them. Falstaff makes fun of the honor, it's just a word that passes. He gives his page Robin the letters and chases Bardolfo and Pistola out to the inn with the broom.

Second picture: garden. Ford's house on the left

The letters have reached the two women. They read them to each other and realize that they are identical except for the salutation. Out of outrage, they decide to teach Falstaff a lesson. Mrs. Quickly, a mutual friend, is supposed to bring him a letter from Alice inviting him to a rendezvous at which he is to be ridiculed because of his lustfulness and obesity. Meanwhile, Ford has also learned from Bardolfo and Pistola that Falstaff wants to ensnare his wife. He wants to lure Falstaff with money, lure him into his house and catch him red-handed with his wife. Throughout the hustle and bustle, Ford's daughter Nannetta and Fenton swear love to each other every quiet minute.

Second act

First picture: In the inn to the Garter

Mrs. Quickly comes and brings Falstaff Alice's invitation: he is supposed to come to her between 2 and 3. Everything seems to be going in his favor. Especially when Ford arrives, introduces himself as Mr. Fontana (German: Brunnen) and confesses to him that he loves Alice desperately, but she always turns him away. If Falstaff could manage to seduce Alice, maybe he too could end up with her. For that he would also make some money. Falstaff triumphantly admits that he already has an appointment with her. When he leaves the dining room to dress up, jealousy and anger openly break out of Ford. However, he controlled himself when Falstaff reappeared. Together they set off.

Second picture: A hall in Ford's house

Mrs. Quickly announces that Falstaff is on her way. Nannetta complains that her father tells Dr. Cajus promised. Alice reassures her daughter that she will prevent that. Falstaff comes singing an old-fashioned serenade. When he wants to hug Alice, Mrs. Quickly comes in: Jealous Meg is coming. Falstaff hides behind a screen . As soon as Meg has entered the scene, Mrs. Quickly comes a second time: the men are on their way. Everywhere they look for the fat knight. He's hiding in a laundry basket. Nannetta and Fenton have come in and are hiding behind the screen. When everything is quiet for a moment, they kiss loudly. Ford now believes that Falstaff was hiding there, and orders his people to storm the screen. Meanwhile, Falstaff is afraid of suffocating in the laundry. When Ford outlines the screen, however, he does not find the knight, but the young lovers. Before he can confront the two, however, one of his people thinks they have seen Falstaff elsewhere. While the men leave again, Alice orders her servants to take the laundry basket - the one with the hidden Falstaff - and pour the contents into the Thames. She calls the men back and with a loud hoot the basket is emptied into the river.

Third act

First picture: A place in front of the inn to the Garter

Falstaff sits soaked and freezing in front of the inn and laments the wickedness of the world. With a pot of mulled wine, however, his spirits reawaken. When Quickly appears to invite him to a new rendezvous with Alice, he refuses at first brusquely, but then lets himself be persuaded. At midnight he is supposed to meet at Hernes Eiche in Windsor Park, disguised as a Black Hunter , with deer antlers on his head. Ford wants to use the hustle and bustle to talk to his daughter with Dr. Cajus, disguised as a monk, to marry. Mrs. Quickly overheard him: Fenton will also appear disguised as a monk.

Second picture: Windsor Park. In the middle the large oak from Herne

Fenton celebrates his love for Nannetta in the moonlight. Falstaff appears in disguise, and so does Alice. When he storms into her, Nannetta and the citizens of Windsor suddenly appear, disguised as a fairy queen with her entourage. Falstaff is hiding, but is soon found and harassed by the citizens who have come in the meantime. But when he recognizes Bardolfo by his liquor flag among them, he sees through the ghost. The highlight of the masquerade will now be a double wedding. Ford wed the two couples in disguise. When they take off the disguise, everyone realizes he married Nannetta and Fenton - and Dr. Cajus with Bardolfo. Little by little everyone joins the final fugue: Tutto nel mondo è burla, l'uom è nato burlone. (Everything is fun on earth, man is born a fool.)

Verdi at the rehearsals (published 1894 in L'Univers illustré )
Boito and Verdi


Verdi's first comic opera Un giorno di regno ( King for a Day , 1840) had become a fiasco, perhaps also because the composition had been overshadowed by personal strokes of fate, such as the death of his children (1838 and 1839) and the death of his first wife Margherita at the time of the composition. For a long time, Verdi refused to try his hand at the comic genre. In any case, he quickly abandoned plans for an opera based on Shakespeare's Der Sturm (1850 for Covent Garden) and for Falstaff or Tartuffe (with Antonio Ghislanzoni as librettist, 1868).

Obviously it was Arrigo Boito who in the early summer of 1889 drew the attention of the now almost 76-year-old composer back to Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor . Verdi was immediately enthusiastic about the idea (letter to Boito, July 6, 1889), but one day later he had doubts: Would he not prevent Boito from composing Nerone ? ( Nerone : Opera by Boito, completed posthumously by Arturo Toscanini and others, first performance only in 1924.) In general, would Verdi be able to finish the project at his age? They first agreed to move the matter forward in secret. Verdi only wanted to compose in one piece to have fun and to pass the time. At the moment he is writing a strange fugue (letter of August 18, 1889, see below).

Boito wrote the first two acts by mid-November 1889, and sent the third to Verdi in early March 1890. On March 8, Verdi paid Boito for the libretto.

On March 17, 1890, Verdi reported that he had finished (i.e., sketched) the first act. Unfortunately, the work on Falstaff was not a good star either, because in March their mutual friend, the composer and conductor of the world premiere of Otello Franco Faccio , fell seriously ill (he died after a long suffering in the summer of 1891). On October 6th, Verdi wrote to Boito that he had left the second act aside and first sketched the sonnet (i.e. Fenton's little aria at the beginning of the last picture). In March 1891 Verdi composed the finale of the second act. In further letters to Boito, Verdi reported that he occasionally worked on the Falstaff , but not for days either. On September 8, 1891, Boito wrote to him that he had heard rumors that the composition of Falstaff was finished. Two days later, Verdi replied: “It is not true that I finished Falstaff . I am working on putting what I have done so far into the score ”because he was afraid of forgetting his ideas for orchestration . The first part of the third act was still missing (at least?). On April 17, 1892, Boito made a small change to the monologue about honor (1st act, 1st picture) and wrote: "You (Verdi) can complete the first act and move on to the second." Instrumentation meant. On September 20, 1892, Verdi wrote to Boito: “I gave the third act of Falstaff to Tito [Ricordi II., The publisher, 1865 to 1933] . Yesterday I returned [the corrections for] the libretto and the piano reduction of the first act [which was not done by Verdi himself, but by Carlo Carignani]. "

The first performance was scheduled for the beginning of February 1893, the rehearsals should begin on January 2nd. The premiere took place as planned on February 9, 1893 and was a great success. At the beginning of April Verdi made two small changes in the finale of the second act and at the end of the first image of the third act.

The following singers took part in the premiere under the musical direction of Edoardo Mascheroni : Victor Maurel (Falstaff), Antonio Pini-Corsi (Ford), Edoardo Garbin (Fenton), Giovanni Paroli (Dr. Cajus), Paolo Pelagalli-Rossetti (Bardolfo) , Vittorio Arimondi (Pistola), Emma Zilli (Alice Ford), Adelina Stehle (Nannetta), Giuseppina Pasqua (Mrs. Quickly), Virginia Guerrini (Mrs. Meg Page).

Arturo Toscanini later found a note from Verdi's hand in the score (with reference to Falstaff's monologue at the beginning of the third act):

“The ultimate note from Falstaff. Tutto è finito! Va, va, vecchio John… Cammina per la tua via, finchè tu puoi… Divertente tipo di briccone; eternamente vero, sotto maschera diversa, in ogni tempo, in ogni luogo !! Va… Va… Cammina Cammina… Addio !!! ”

“The last notes of Falstaff. Everything is over! Go go old John Run there on your way as long as you can ... Funny original of a villain; forever true, behind any mask, at any time, in any place !! Go ... go ... run run ... addio !!! "



The orchestral line-up for the opera includes the following instruments:


Costume design by Adolf Hohenstein for the premiere (1893)
Libretto by Ricordi (no year)

It's an amazing phenomenon of opera history that after Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti in 1843 , almost exactly 50 years were to pass before with Falstaff in Italy a comic opera originated from Rang again, especially since there is neither a Operetta of Vienna , where even the Parisian style Has. So Verdi had to reinvent comic opera, as it were. The only work that could have served as a model for him in terms of musical and dramaturgical structure, namely Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868), is evidently not mentioned in Verdi's letters. It almost seems that - after attending the Italian premiere of Lohengrin in 1871 - he deliberately avoided knowing the operas of his German antipode in order to keep his own development free from external influences - and especially from German: “non voglio essere Lohengrinato ”(I don't want to be lohengrinated) or“ Vagner è fatto ed è inutile rifarlo ”(Wagner already exists and it is useless to do it again, to Clarina Maffei, July 31, 1863). However, Verdi biographer Julian Budden believes he recognizes the role model for the large ensemble at the end of the first act of Falstaff in the final ensemble of the first act of the Meistersinger ("where the tenor rises above a mixture of voices in different rhythms") - and leaves So it is assumed that Verdi was present at the Italian premiere of the Meistersinger , which only took place at La Scala in Milan at Christmas 1889 in a version greatly shortened by Giacomo Puccini . Johannes Schild, who in a comparative study of the two operas, identifies a parodic break from Wagner's Meistersinger theme in the orchestral introduction to Falstaff, goes further.

The otherness of Verdi's opera emerges precisely in the face of such parallels: just as the Mastersingers form a comical counterpart to Tannhauser's artistry , so the Falstaff to the jealous drama of Otello (a parallel that Boito, who is much more familiar with Wagner's work, perhaps deliberately aimed at) . The external layout is also similar: three acts, in a melodious-recitative-like Parlando style aimed at the greatest possible intelligibility of the text, "composed" (ie without individual numbers separated by recitatives or dialogues), and the integration of a rather unusual for 19th century opera musical form, the fugue . It was quite common in the music of the pre-classical period for the “ Battaglia ”, ie the battle scene, and was taken up as such by Verdi in the new version of Macbeth (1864) and, of course, by Wagner in the Meistersingers . Verdi probably composed the final fugue of Falstaff in August 1889 (i.e. before the libretto was completed). On August 18th he wrote to Boito: “I have fun doing grout! ... Yes, sir: a fugue ... and a funny fugue (...) Why funny, you will say? … I don't know how nor why, but it's a strange fugue! ”(He composed another fugue for the final movement of his string quartet in E minor in 1873.)

As a counterpart to the final fugue, Verdi conceived the very first scene with Dr. Cajus as a Sinfonia overture in sonata form , in which, however, is already sung. The entire second picture of the first act is designed as a Scherzo-Rondo. This recourse to older (i.e. classical and pre-classical) orchestral forms corresponds to a singing style that was completely different from his earlier operas. When it came time to prepare for the premiere, Verdi wrote to Ricordi (June 13, 1892): “The music is not difficult (in the sense of cumbersome), it has to be sung differently from modern comic operas and the old buffo operas. I don't want people to sing it ( Falstaff as an opera) like z. B. Carmen (!) And also not how to sing Don Pasquale or Crispino ( Crispino e la comare , comic opera by Luigi and Federico Ricci, text by Francesco Maria Piave , 1850). You have to study and that will take time. Our singers can generally only sing with a big voice. They have neither vocal elasticity nor clear and easy diction, and they lack accents and breath. "

Verdi probably already dealt with early Italian music ( Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina , Benedetto Marcello , Leonardo Leo , Domenico Scarlatti ) in the 1860s and recommended - with regard to the training of young composers:

"Let's go back to the old, it will be a step forward."

(Letter to Francesco Florimo, January 2, 1871, here again a strange parallel to Wagner's: "So I tell you: Honor your German masters!"). Verdi knew, of course, that the means and the peculiarity of early Italian madrigal music could not be used to make melodramas in the style of the time, i.e. in the manner of Don Carlos , Aida , La Gioconda (by Amilcare Ponchielli ), or finally Otello . This is probably why he was already looking for a material for a comic opera at the end of the 1860s, and after Otello he would certainly not have tackled a melodramatic material again. That music, with its penchant for scholarly gimmicks in strict forms, was, however, made for comedy, especially comedy understood as a playful experiment, and musical comedy could be reinvented with recourse to it. The old opera buffa had, in fact, come to an end with Don Pasquale .

In fact, Verdi's Falstaff - much more directly than Wagner's Meistersinger - initiated a renaissance of musical comedy around the turn of the century . Richard Strauss was an ardent admirer of this score. His symphonic poem Till Eulenspiegel's funny pranks (1895) is almost a style copy of Falstaff (albeit without vocals), and also in Der Rosenkavalier (1911), Ariadne auf Naxos (1912), but above all in Intermezzo (1924), Die Schweigsame Frau (1935) and Capriccio (1942) are repeatedly reminiscent of Verdi's last opera in the voice guidance and the orchestral illustration. Even Ferruccio Busoni's Arlecchino (1917), the comedies of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari and not least Giacomo Puccini's Gianni Schicchi (1918) lead with Falstaff development started on. The fact that the last opera by a nearly eighty-year-old composer opens up a new development is a rare phenomenon in the history of music, comparable perhaps only to the importance of the symphonies of the late Joseph Haydn for the development of this genre in the 19th century.


  • Score, score facsimile, piano reduction, orchestral material have been published by Ricordi Music Publishing , Milan.
  • to the history of origin: Verdi - Boito: Correspondence (translated and edited by H. Busch). Frankfurt / Main: S. Fischer, 1986. Piper's Enzyklopädie des Musiktheater, Vol. 6, pp. 491-497.
  • Julian Budden: Verdi. Life and work . Stuttgart: Reclam 1987, ISBN 3-15-010469-6 , pp. 290-305.
  • Giuseppe Verdi: "Falstaff". Texts, materials, comments . With an essay by Dietmar Holland (Ed .: A. Csampai, D. Holland). Reinbek: rororo 1986.
  • C. Casini: Verdi . Königstein: Athens 1985.

Recordings (selection)

Web links

Commons : Falstaff  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Egon Voss in: Anselm Gerhard , Uwe Schweikert (ed.): Verdi manual . Metzler, Kassel 2001, ISBN 3-476-01768-0 , and Bärenreiter, Stuttgart and Weimar 2001, ISBN 3-7618-2017-8 , p. 496.
  2. ^ Peter Ross: Falstaff. In: Piper's Encyclopedia of Musical Theater. Volume 6: Works. Spontini - Zumsteeg. Piper, Munich / Zurich 1997, ISBN 3-492-02421-1 , p. 491.
  3. ^ Julian Budden: Verdi , p. 301.
  4. Johannes Schild : Happy late bloom: Falstaff and Meistersinger juxtaposed, in: Arnold Jacobshagen (Ed.): Verdi and Wagner, cultures of opera . Boehlau, Vienna ed a. 2014, ISBN 978-3-412-22249-9 , pp. 112-149, here: pp. 117f.