Antonio Salieri’s setting of Falstaff, is an operatic version of Shakespeare’s play, The Merry Wives of Windsor. The knock about comedy of Shakespeare’s original – it is his only small-town drama – which has caused Shakespeareans to look down on the play are the very things that make for an excellent opera buffa. Central to both works is the scene in which Falstaff, hiding from Mr Ford in laundry basket, is carried out under his nose.
Conductor – Steven Devine
Director – Michael Burden
Repetiteurs – Jonathon Swinard, Benjamin Holder
Leader – Caroline Balding
Sir John Falstaff – Giles Underwood
Master Ford – Kevin Kyle
Mistress Ford – Rachel Shannon
Master Slender (6, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17) – Thomas Kennedy
Master Slender (9, 10) – George Coltart
Mistress Slender – Merryn Gamba
Bardolf, Falstaff’s servant (6, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17) – Thomas Kennedy
Bardolf, Falstaff’s servant (9, 10) – George Coltart
Betty, Mistress Ford’s maid – Kate Semmens
Sir John Falstaff – Dominic Bowe
Master Ford (6, 9, 10, 16) – Nick Pritchard
Master Ford (12, 13, 15, 17) – William Blake
Mistress Ford – Robyn Parton
Master Slender – Tom Bennett
Mistress Slender – Esther Brazil
Bardolf, Falstaff’s servant – Tom Bennett
Betty, Mistress Ford’s maid – Julia Sitkovetsky
‘Sir’ John Falstaff arrives uninvited at a party given at Mr and Mrs Slender’s home in Windsor. He is broke, and sees the opportunity to replenish his resources and improve his lifestyle by wooing his hostess, Mrs Slender, and her friend, Mrs Ford, as a way to their husband’s fortunes.
Retiring to the Capricorn Inn, he writes identical love letters to both women. When they compare notes, they realise his game, and plot revenge. Mr Ford is now suspicious of his wife’s fidelity.
Mrs Ford then disguises herself as a German woman, and visits Falstaff. Following in her wake, her husband, planning to catch Falstaff and his wife in flagrante, calls disguised as a ‘Mr Brook’, and furthers Falstaff’s plan to call on his wife when ‘her husband’ is out.
When Falstaff calls on Mrs Ford, the first trick is played out. As Falstaff makes a play for Mrs Ford, they are interrupted by the maid, Betty, with the (false) news at Mr Ford is at the door. They tip Falstaff into a laundry basket to ‘hide’ him, intending to tip him into the Thames. To general consternation, Mr Ford then does arrive and orders a search of the house. However, the ‘laundry’ is removed under his nose, and the women are able to mock Ford for his apparently unfounded jealousy.
Although they came near to disaster, the ultimate success of their plan has spurred Mrs Ford and Mrs Slender to further exploits, and Betty visits Falstaff to set up another assignation. But ‘Mr Brook’ also visits and finds out the truth about the laundry basket…. this time, Falstaff’s overtures to Mrs Ford are again interrupted by the return of Mr Ford. To conceal Falstaff, he is disguised as the Ford’s cook’s old aunt, someone loathed by Mr Ford. When Ford arrives, he heads straight for the laundry basket; to find it empty! And takes his wrath out on the ‘aunt’ whom he beats out of the house.
Mrs Ford and Mrs Slender decide to call a halt, and to confess all to their husbands, and together, they decide on one last trick to settle the matter. ‘Mr Brook’ and the ‘German Lady’ again visit Falstaff; they finally make a ‘cuckold’ of him, by persuading him to dress as Herne the Hunter with horns, and to meet Mrs Ford at Herne’s oak in the Windsor Forrest. Mrs Ford and Mrs Slender meet Falstaff at the tree, flatter him, and then disappear. Falstaff, frightened, imagines he is bewitched, and is so panicked that he fails to spot Mrs Ford’s true identity when she then appears as the teasing ‘Queen of the Fairies’. In the end, Mrs Ford and Mrs Slender reveal their true identities, and make Falstaff promise that he will err no more.
6 July – Download form here
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9 July – New College Old Members’ night – call (01865) 279337, or email [email protected]
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12 July – Download form here; or, OXPIP – Call (01865) 778 034
13 July – Friends of the Oxford Botanic Gardens – (07722) 605 787, or [email protected]
15 July – New College Old Members’ night – call (01865) 279337, or email [email protected]
16 and 17 July – Friends of Welsh National Opera – (01865) 865 806