The Windsor Resort, Monte Carlo, 1930’s
After an outburst with Dr. Caius who – accurately – accuses them of theft, Falstaff hands a letter to each of his servants, Bardolfo and Pistola, to deliver to two wealthy married women, Alice Ford and Meg Page. In these two identical letters, Falstaff professes his love for each of them although he is truly after their wealth. Bardolfo and Pistola refuse to help, claiming that honor prevents them. Falstaff berates them, telling them that honor is a mere word and of no real value. He sends them away.
After receiving his letters, Alice and Meg compare them and realize that they are identical. Together with Dame Quickly and Alice’s daughter, Nannetta, they resolve to punish Falstaff. Meanwhile, Bardolfo and Pistola have warned Alice’s husband, Ford, of Falstaff’s intentions. All three men seek revenge and are supported by Caius and Fenton, a penniless young man in love with Nannetta.
Bardolfo and Pistola, now in allegiance with Ford, find Falstaff and pretend to beg for forgiveness. Quickly arrives with an invitation to visit Alice that afternoon between the hours of two and three. Falstaff is assured that neither Meg nor Alice is aware of the other’s letter. Ford arrives disguised as another suitor of Alice, calling himself “Signor Fontana.” He offers money to Falstaff to seduce Alice explaining that if she breaks her marital vows with Falstaff, it will be easier for him to pursue her. Falstaff agrees and reveals that he already has a meeting arranged with Alice for two o’clock which, as Ford knows, is the hour he is always away. Falstaff leaves him to change into his best clothes while Ford is consumed with jealousy.
Alice, Meg, and Quickly prepare for Falstaff’s arrival and attempt to cheer up Nanetta who loves Fenton but is being forced by her father to marry Dr. Caius. Together they resolve this will not happen. Quickly announces Falstaff’s arrival and Alice ensures a screen and laundry hamper are ready. Falstaff attempts to seduce Alice but is interrupted by the arrival of Ford. Falstaff hides first behind the screen, but then encouraged by the women, climbs into the hamper. While the men search the house Alice orders her servants to dump the contents of the hamper – including Falstaff – through the window and into the sea.
Recovering from the humiliating escapade, Falstaff curses the state of the world. Quickly arrives and delivers another invitation to meet Alice. At first Falstaff wants nothing to do with it, but she persuades him. He is to meet Alice at midnight on the beach dressed as Herne the Hunter. Ford, having realized his mistake in suspecting Alice, now joins the women in creating a new plan to punish Falstaff. Dressed as supernatural creatures, they will ambush and torment him on the beach at midnight. Ford makes a second, and private plan with Caius: while all are in disguise that evening – Nannetta as the Queen of the Fairies, and Caius as a monk – Ford will marry them. Quickly overhears Ford and Caius plotting the marriage and quietly vows to thwart them.
Fenton arrives at the beach and sings of his happiness. The women arrive and disguise Fenton as a monk, telling him it is intended to ruin Ford and Caius’s plans. Disguised as the Queen of the Fairies, Nannetta calls on her fellow “creatures” to join her at the beach. Falstaff’s second attempt at seducing Alice is interrupted by the news that witches are approaching. Disguised as elves and fairies, the mob torments Falstaff. The torment ends only when Falstaff recognizes Bardolfo through his disguise. The charade is over, and Falstaff acknowledges it was deserved. Ford announces a wedding. Caius and the Queen of the Fairies enter. A second couple, also in disguise, asks Ford if he would marry them as well. Ford conducts the double ceremony. Caius finds that instead of Nannetta, his bride is Bardolfo in disguise, and Ford has unwittingly blessed the marriage of Fenton and Nannetta. Ford accepts his fate with humility and Falstaff proclaims that everything in the world is a jest.