The Merry Wives of Windsor (in German: Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor) is an opera in three acts by Otto Nicolai to a German libretto by Salomon Hermann Mosenthal based on the play The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare.
The opera is a Singspiel, containing much spoken dialogue between distinct musical numbers. The opera remains popular in Germany, and the overture is sometimes heard in concert in other countries.
Otto Nicolai composed the music from 1845 to 1849. He had previously achieved great success with a few Italian operas, but this opera was to become his masterpiece in the German language. The composer himself make some changes to the libretto.
It was difficult at first to find a stage that was willing to mount the opera, but following the premiere at the Hofoper in Berlin on 9 March 1849 under the baton of the composer, it achieved great success and its popularity continues to this day. Though the libretto and the dramaturgy may seem old-fashioned to today's audiences, the music is of such high quality that the work is nevertheless performed with increasing regularity.
23 performances of four productions were planned in four German cities between March and July 2012.
9 March 1849
(Conductor: Otto Nicolai)
|Frau Fluth (Alice Ford)
|Frau Reich (Meg Page)
|Sir John Falstaff
|Herr Fluth (Ford)
|Anna Reich (Anne Page)
|Herr Reich (Page)
|Second, third, and fourth citizens
|Two servants of Herr Fluth
|Chorus of men and women of Windsor, neighbors, elves, spooks, and insects
Two married ladies, Frau Fluth and Frau Reich, discover that they both received love letters from the impoverished nobleman Falstaff at the same time. They decide to teach him a lesson and withdraw to hatch a plan. Now the husbands of Frau Fluth and Frau Reich come in. Anna, Frau Reich's daughter, is of marriageable age and three gentlemen seek her hand in marriage: Dr. Cajus, a French beau, is her mother's favorite, and her father wants the shy nobleman Spärlich as his son-in-law, but Anna is in love with the penniless Fenton.
Frau Fluth has invited Falstaff to a supposed tryst, and he enters with grand romantic gestures and clumsily attempts to ensnare her. As Frau Reich reports the return of the distrustful Herr Fluth, which had been previously arranged, the old gentleman is hidden in a laundry basket, the contents of which are quickly emptied into a ditch. Herr Fluth has searched the whole house in the meantime without success and is forced to believe his wife, who protests her innocence.
At the inn, Falstaff has recovered from his bath and sings bawdy drinking songs. A messenger brings him a letter, in which Frau Fluth proposes another rendezvous. Her husband appears in disguise and presents himself as Herr Bach to get Falstaff to talk about his trysts. He unsuspectingly brags about his affair with Frau Fluth, which provokes her husband's rage.
Spärlich and Cajus sneak around Anna's window, but before they attempt to go near, they hear Fenton's serenade and hide in the bushes. From there they observe a passionate love scene between the two lovers.
Falstaff is again with Frau Fluth, and Frau Reich again warns them both that Herr Fluth is on his way home. This time they dress the fat knight in women's clothes to try and pass him off as the maid. Herr Fluth enters and finds only the old maid, whom he angrily throws out of the house.
Fluth and Reich are finally let in on the plan by their wives and the four of them decide to take Falstaff for a ride one last time. The knight is expected to show up at a grand masked ball in Windsor Forest. Additionally, Herr and Frau Reich each plan to take advantage of the confusion to marry Anna off to their preferred suitor. Instead, however, she has arranged a nighttime meeting with Fenton in the forest.
After the moonrise, depicted by the chorus and orchestra, the masked ball in the forest begins. At first, Falstaff, disguised as Ritter Herne, is lured by the two women, but then he is frightened by various other guests disguised as ghosts, elves, and insects. After the masks are removed and Falstaff is mocked by everyone, Anna and Fenton, who got married in the forest chapel, appear. In a cheerful closing number all of the parties are reconciled.
The opera follows the Singspiel tradition, in which musical numbers are connected by spoken dialog. Nicolai referred to the work as a "komisch-fantastische Oper" ("comic/fantasy opera"), reflecting its fusion of romantic opera in the style of Carl Maria von Weber and the comic operas of Albert Lortzing, which were very popular at the time. On the romantic side are the love scenes between Anna and Fenton, the ghost and elf music and, naturally, the moonrise. The opera buffa element comes into play with the figure of Falstaff, the husbands, and both of the suitors spurned by Anna.
- "Horch, die Lerche singt im Hain" ("Hark! The lark sings in the grove") (Fenton)
- "Als Büblein klein an der Mutter Brust" ("As a little rascal on my mother's breast") (Falstaff)
- "Nun eilt Herbei" ("Now hurry here") (Frau Fluth)
The opera is scored for two flutes (second doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, tenor drum, triangle, harp, strings, plus offstage harp and offstage bell in G.
- Capriccio 60094: Franz Hawlata, Dietrich Henschel, Heinz Zednik, Juliane Banse, Regina Klepper; Landesjugendchor NRW; WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln; Helmuth Froschauer, conductor
- Deutsche Grammophon 2740 159: Edith Mathis, Hanna Schwarz, Kurt Moll, Bernd Weikl, Siegfried Vogel, Peter Schreier, Claude Dormoy; Chorus of the Staatsoper; Berlin Staatskapelle; Bernhard Klee, conductor
- Decca D86D 3: Helen Donath, Karl Ridderbusch, Wolfgang Brendel, Lilian Sukis; Bavarian Radio Chorus; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Rafael Kubelík, conductor
- EMI 29 0940 3: Gottlob Frick, Ernst Gutstein, Kieth Engen, Fritz Wunderlich, Edith Mathis; Chorus and orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera; Robert Heger, conductor
- Preiser PR90208, Cantus Classics, Aura LRC 1118, Wilhelm Strienz, Georg Hann, Ludwig Windisch, Walter Ludwig, Lore Hoffmann, Irma Beilke, Marie Luise Schilp, Berliner Rundfunk Sinfonie-Orchester, Chor der Städtischen Oper Berlin, Artur Rother, conductor, 1943.
- ^ Performance listed on Operabase.com
- ^ Lamb, Andrew, Review of recording of Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (1977). The Musical Times, 118 (1615): p. 737.
- ^ Lamb, Andrew, Review of recording of Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (1978). The Musical Times, 119 (1628): p. 866.