Otto Nicolai’s comic singspiel Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor is a German retelling of Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor. Many of our characters are transformed into their German counterparts (Alice Ford becomes Frau Fluth, Meg Page becomes Frau Reich), and the plot is distilled to its main elements, but the comic comeuppance of the notorious drunkard and womanizer, Sir John Falstaff, remains just as rewarding.
When Frau Fluth and Frau Reich each receive the same letter from Sir John Falstaff, professing his love for them, and trying to entice them to have an extra-marital affair with him, they plan to teach him a lesson. After hiding Falstaff in a basket of laundry and throwing him in a ditch, and then disguising him as an elderly maid, Frau Fluth and Frau Reich finally let their husbands in on the secret. One last plot is devised to embarrass the man, and it will all happen at the grand masquerade in the forest
While this has been going on, Spärlich (Slender), Dr. Cajus, and Fenton have been competing for the hand of young Anna Reich (Anne Page). Her parents have each chosen their favorite suitor, but neither of them have picked Fenton, despite Anna’s love for him. Herr and Frau Reich both plan to marry Anna to their preferred suitor during the masquerade, but she outwits them and marries her beloved Fenton instead.
At the masquerade, the guests disguise themselves as elves, insects, and ghosts, and perform grotesque dances, terrifying Falstaff in the dark, before revealing their identities and having a good laugh at his expense.
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