Opera Scotland

Lustigen Weiber von Windsor 2013Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Read more about the opera Merry Wives of Windsor

Known chiefly in this country for its overture, anticipating the wealth of melody in the final scene, Nicolai's setting of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor is a beautifully crafted, delightful comedy.  It remains frequently performed in Germany, and deserves to be heard much more often. Apart from a few early performances by Carl Rosa, it may be that it has only been seen here in Fife Opera's staging of 2008. German operas of that style, even Flotow's Martha, seem almost forgotten in this country.

Nicolette Molnár clearly put an enormous amount of thought into her concept, which was carried through in consistent detail. The update to the start of the last century was meticulous - letters going to and fro, with a vital same day delivery (even the green pillar-box predated the standard 'pillar-box red' in its colour scheme). The telephone has not yet reached Windsor. Sir John was shown posting several letters, perhaps scented with the contents of his brandy flask - he had a tendency to kiss them before posting. Various members of the community were revealed in dumbshow - from policeman to postman, all fitted in neatly, with the opening scene outside the Windsor Post Office showing the people of the town.

The first two performances were conducted in lively, authentic style by Guido Rumstadt (from the Nürnberg Hochschule). Lots of delightful instrumental touches were produced from the student orchestra. While the chorus only appears as an entity in the first act finale and the last Windsor Forest scene, they sang well, and many of them were given the chance to take minor character parts, whether spoken or silent.

The opera seems an ideal one for student performers - none of the roles need huge dramatic voices. It provides an excellent example of ensemble opera. In the early sequences Frau Fluth (Alice Ford) and Sir John are perhaps dominant, and they were stylishly sung and acted by Anush Hovhannisyan, whose lovely lyric soprano continues to develop, and Andrew Tipple, who has a well-upholstered bass tone.

The other characters soon catch up. There is one strong scene where the elderly Cajus and Spärlich, both coveting Anne, are forced to eavesdrop on her courtship scene with Fenton - an excellent conceit mixing comedy and pathos, that has no parallel in the Verdi version. Having the merry wives genteelly sipping afternoon tea while their menfolk ransacked the house also made its effect. Frau Reich (Meg Page) has more to do than in Verdi (Nicolai has no fruity contralto Quickly character) and Elfa Stefánsdottir made the most of her song where she recounts the legend of Herne the Hunter. But there were no weaknesses in the cast, and even the husbands in tweedy plus-fours were nicely differentiated.

Language is an issue. The students must learn to be comfortable singing (and speaking) in a range of tongues. It was billed as Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, and the music was sung throughout in very acceptable German. Dialogue is more problematic - the cast switched from German to English and back, with some lines of genuine Shakespeare thrown in, trying to keep the audience clued up without them being distracted by surtitles - which were rather small and not easy to read. This is however a minor quibble after what was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. There were, at least at this second performance, an astonishing number of empty seats - there really shouldn't be any, when such a high quality show is on display.

Performance Cast

Mrs Ford Frau Fluth, wife of Ford

Anush Hovhannisyan

Mrs Page Frau Reich, wife of Page, Anne's mother

Elfa Stefánsdóttir

Anne Page Jungfer Anna Reich, daughter of Page

Jessica Leary

Fenton a young gentleman

Raoni Hübner (May 11, 15)

Luperci de Souza (May 13, 16)

Ford Herr Fluth, a Windsor merchant

Jon Stainsby

Dr Caius a French gentleman

Daniel O'Connor

Page Herr Reich, a Windsor merchant

Bartholomew Lawrence

Sir John Falstaff a knight

Andrew Tipple

Slender Junker Spärlich, an elderly gentleman

Luke Sinclair

Postman

Lawrence Smith

Innkeeper

Jonathan Kennedy

First Huntsman

Ian McBain

Second Huntsman

Kieran White

Third Huntsman

Christian Schneeberger

Performance DatesLustigen Weiber von Windsor 2013

Map List

New Athenaeum Theatre | Glasgow

11 May, 19.15 13 May, 19.15 15 May, 19.15 16 May, 19.15

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