Opera Scotland

Merry Wives of Windsor Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor


Otto Nicolai (born Königsberg, 9 June 1810; died Berlin, 11 May 1849).


Salomon Hermann Mosenthal.


Play The Merry Wives of Windsor (c1600) by William Shakespeare (1564-1616).



First performance: Berlin (Hofoper), 9 March 1849.

First performance in UK: London (Her Majesty's Theatre), 3 May 1864.

First performance in Scotland: Aberdeen (Her Majesty's Theatre), 10 October 1877.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.



In Britain, Nicolai's masterpiece has been substantially replaced in the operatic repertoire by Verdi's Falstaff, with its masterly and economical text by Arrigo Boito. However, on those occasions when it is performed, its success suggests that the comparative neglect is unfair. It has never lost popularity in the German-speaking world, and its wonderfully effervescent and tuneful overture still turns up in concerts elsewhere from time to time. Mosenthal's libretto suffers by comparison with Boito's. The Italian pruned ruthlessly to knock Shakespeare's sprawling drama into shape, while adding a couple of important sequences from Henry IV and V. Mosenthal's approach was less disciplined, and essentially superfluous characters such as Page and Slender survive, while contributing little. Falstaff seems less human without important places for Mistress Quickly, Bardolph and Pistol to add an extra dimension. The second of three assignations, in which he escapes in drag, was sensibly cut by Boito to give greater prominence to the laundry basket scene.


Main Characters

Sir John Falstaff, an elderly knight (bass)

Herr Fluth - Master Ford, a merchant (baritone).

Frau Fluth - Mistress Ford, his wife (soprano).

Herr Reich - Master Page, a merchant (bass)

Frau Reich - Mistress Page, his wife (mezzo-soprano)

Jungfer Anna Reich - Anne Page, their daughter (soprano)

Fenton, a young gentleman (tenor)

Junker Spärlich - Master Slender, a Justice (tenor)

Dr Caius - a French doctor (bass)


Plot Summary

Mistresses Ford and Page discover they have received identical letters from Falstaff offering his services as a lover. They plan to embarrass him, and Mistress Ford writes to agree a meeting, also ensuring that her irritatingly jealous husband is made aware. As Sir John and Mistress Ford are about to commence, Mistress Page rushes in, as planned, to announce the imminent arrival oF Ford. Falstaff, hiding in a laundry basket, is tipped into the river.

Falstaff receives a second invitation from Mistress Ford. Her suspicious husband visits him in disguise, and is given tips on courtship. The romantic subplot gets under way, in which the Pages each try to arrange an advantageous marriage for their daughter, while she is far happier with the attentions of young Fenton. Back at the Fords, Sir John's second visit is again interrupted by Ford, but Falstaff escapes in a set of capacious female clothes prepared earlier by the merry wives.

They now reveal the true story to the husbands, and a final plot to unmask and embarrass the knight is put into action in the supposedly haunted Windsor forest. He admits his past errors. Meantime Fenton and Anne have crept off to get married, while Caius and Slender, each believing the other's disguise conceals Anne, end up paired off with one another.

The Cast

Anne Page
 Jungfer Anna Reich, daughter of Page
Dr Caius
 a French gentleman
 a young gentleman
First Citizen
First Huntsman
 Herr Fluth, a Windsor merchant
Fourth Citizen
 of the 'Garter Inn'
Mrs Ford
 Frau Fluth, wife of Ford
Mrs Page
 Frau Reich, wife of Page, Anne's mother
 Herr Reich, a Windsor merchant
Second Citizen
Second Huntsman
Sir John Falstaff
 a knight
 Junker Spärlich, an elderly gentleman
Third Citizen
Third Huntsman

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