Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor


Music by

Otto Nicolai

Text by

Salomon Hermann Mosenthal
based on William Shakespeare

German romanticism and Italian charm combined with Shakespearean comedy: this was Otto Nicolai’s inspiration for his »comic-fantastic« opera. The way in which the »Merry Wives of Windsor« give the smug Knight Sir John Falstaff – who has seen better days – the literal runaround, is a masterstroke of characterisation through music.

First performed on stage at the Hofoper Unter den Linden in March 1849, this work by the Berlin court conductor Nicolai quickly became a fixture in the repertoire. Besides energy, playful wit and theatrical comedy, Mozart’s spirit and Mendelssohn’s esprit are just as palpable as the Italian bel canto. Both in the libretto and score, the characters’ individual profiles stand out, while the buffoonish twists and turns of the plot tip things over the edge, including the different shades of atmosphere in scenes that feature both light and dark sides. For many years this vibrant work, a comic opera in the best sense of the word, was no longer in the Staatsoper repertoire; but it now returns with its inspired score to the venue where it was premiered.




Mrs. Fluth and Mrs. Reich are neighbors. Both receive identical letters from Sir John Falstaff declaring his love for them. The women want to have their fun with the corpulent knight with a dubious reputation: since their own reputation as proper women has been challenged, they conjure up a plan for revenge. 
Mr. Reich wants his daughter Anna to marry the affluent aristocrat Spärlich. But another suitor, the Frenchman Dr. Cajus, is preferred by Anna’s mother. But Anna loves only Fenton, who has no material goods to offer. Fenton asks Anna’s father for her hand in marriage, at first tenderly, then with increasing vehemence. But Mr. Reich rejects him. 
Mrs. Fluth has invited Falstaff to a rendezvous at her home. She seeks to teach the two men each a lesson: Sir John for his brazen audacity, and her husband for his constant jealousy. Mr. Fluth has been instructed by Mrs. Reich that he will find his wife entertaining a lover. 
Falstaff enters and without delay begins to woo Mrs. Fluth. In the midst of his attempts, Mrs. Reich appears and reports of the approaching neighbors with Fluth leading the way, hoping to catch the supposed adulterers in flagranti. Falstaff is hidden in a basket of dirty laundry, which is about to be emptied into the river. Fluth searches the entire house with his party, but without success. His wife is deeply hurt by the jealous rage and threatens with divorce, the mood turns against Fluth.

Falstaff is only able to make it to shore with difficulty after he has been tossed into the river with the laundry. Wet and disappointed, he seeks consolation in drink. Together with the celebrants of a bachelor party, he turns enthusiastically to alcohol. 
A gentleman has himself announced, a Mr. Bach – in reality the masked Mr. Fluth. He asks Falstaff to seduce the reticent Mrs. Fluth, in whom “Mr. Bach” is immortally love, so that she, now having lost her respectability, is ready to accept another man, him. Sir John is just the right man for the job. Falstaff feels flattered and immediately lets “Mr Bach” know that he has long been having an affair with Mrs. Fluth. Just yesterday their tryst was abruptly interrupted by her extremely jealous husband, who is rich but stupid, and today he has already been summoned to a next meeting. Mr. Fluth (aka Mr. Bach) is scarcely able to control himself; he wants to avenge himself against his unfaithful wife and Falstaff. 
Both Spärlich and Dr. Cajus lie in wait for Anna in order to win her over. But she only has Fenton in her heart; they swear to one another their eternal love. They mock the two hopeless suitors whose rivalry is unmistakable. 
Mrs. Fluth once again invites Falstaff. This time as well, they are surprised by the news that Mr. Fluth is approaching, again bringing help. This time, Mrs. Reich and Mrs. Fluth dress Falstaff in the clothes of a fat old woman who has been banned from the house, the scene of events, by Mr. Fluth. Mr. Fluth chases the old woman out, beating her, after making severe accusations against his wife for cheating on him with Falstaff. The house is searched a second time, and a second time no one is found. Mr. Fluth becomes furiously angry, and all attempts to calm him fail.

Mrs. Reich sings to her neighbor Mrs. Fluth, immersed in sadness, the ballad of Hunter Herne, who once was up to mischief in Windsor Forest. This forest is now to be the scene of revenge against Falstaff, a plan has already been developed. 
Anna has been ordered by her father to marry Spärlich, her mother demands Dr. Cajus as a son-in-law. The wedding is to take place at a nightly masquerade. Anna should – depending on who is chosen – wear a green or a red elf costume to be recognized by Spärlich and Cajus. But deceiving both her parents and the unwanted suitors, she will wear a white gown and unite with Fenton. 
Night has fallen, the scene is only lit by moonlight. Falstaff expects Mrs. Fluth at exactly midnight. She appears in the company of Mrs. Reich, which is fine by Falstaff. They enjoy themselves all three, when they are suddenly surrounded by a crowd of elves. They begin a nightly masquerade, in which Anna appears as Titania and Fenton as Oberon. The two lovers become a wedding couple. 
But Falstaff is discovered by the legendary Hunter Herne, who is nobody else by Mr. Reich in costume. The spirits, in reality town dwellers, beat Falstaff with increasing intensity and growing furor. Spärlich in a red and Cajus in a green elf costume storm towards one another in the belief that the other is the desired Anna.
Falstaff had feared for his life. After the masks have been removed, the situation is cleared up. Sir John asks for forgiveness and he is granted it. The Fluths then invite all to their home to celebrate, while Falstaff goes on his way. All’s well that ends well?

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