Comic Opera in three acts by Otto Nicolai. Text by Mosenthal.
This admirable opera is, it need hardly be said, taken from Shakespeare’s famous comedy. Falstaff has written love-letters to the wives of two citizens of Windsor, Mrs. Fluth and Mrs. Reich. They discover his duplicity and decide to punish the infatuated old fool.
Meanwhile -Mr. Fenton, a nice but poor young man, asks for the hand of Anna Reich. But her father has already chosen a richer suitor for his daughter in the person of the silly young squire Sparlich.
In the following scene Sir John Falstaff is amiably received by Mrs. Fluth, when suddenly Mrs. Reich arrives, telling them that Mr. Fluth will be with them at once, having received notice of his wife’s doings. Falstaff is packed into a clothes-basket and carried away from under Mr. Fluth’s nose by two men, who are bidden to put the contents in a canal near the Thames, and the jealous husband, finding nobody, receives sundry lectures from his offended wife.
In the second act Mr. Fluth, mistrusting his wife, makes Falstaff’s acquaintance, under the assumed name of Bach, and is obliged to hear an account of the worthy fat knight’s gallant adventure with his wife and its disagreeable issue. Fluth persuades Falstaff to give him a rendezvous, swearing inwardly to punish the old coxcomb for his impudence.
In the evening Anna meets her lover Fenton in the garden, and ridiculing her two suitors, Sparlich and Dr. Caius, a Frenchman, she promises to remain faithful to her love. The two others, who are hidden be-hind trees, must perforce listen to their own dispraise.
When the time has come for Falstaff’s next visit to Mrs. Fluth, who of course knows of her husband’s renewed suspicion, Mr. Fluth surprises his wife and reproaches her violently with her conduct. During this controversy Falstaff is disguised as an old woman, and when the neighbors come to help the husband in his search, they find only an old deaf cousin of Mrs. Fluth’s who has come from the country to visit her. Nevertheless the hag gets a good thrashing from the duped and angry husband.
In the last act everybody is in the forest, preparing for the festival of Herne the hunter. All are masked, and Sir John Falstaff, being led on by the two merry wives, is surprised by Herne (Fluth), who sends the whole chorus of wasps, flies, and mosquitos on to his broad back. They torment and punish him, till heloudly cries for mercy. Fenton, in the mask of Oberon, has found his Anna in Queen Titania, while Dr. Caius and Sparlich, mistaking their masks for Anna’s, sink into each other’s arms, much to their mutual discomfiture.
Mr. Fluth and Mr. Reich, seeing that their wives are innocent and that they only made fun of Falstaff, are quite happy, and the whole scene ends with a general pardon.