Music with Ease > 19th Century German Opera (except Wagner) > The Merry Wives of Windsor (Nicolai)
The Merry Wives of Windsor
An Opera by Otto Nicolai
This opera has recently been revived, and well deserves to be. It is a bright little work, charming and fresh, in spite of its old style; full of captivating melody, with some excellent concerted writing, and thoroughly good orchestration. The gay overture is widely known from frequent hearings in the concert room.
The story is, of course, an adaptation of Shakespeares comedy. Mosenthal, the librettist, has faithfully followed the original play in all essentials. The only modification of the plot is in the last scene, where Dr. Caius and Slender, instead of being each wedded to a "great lubberly boy," wed each other, to their increased mutual discomfiture.
Otto Nicolai, the composer, had an interesting career. He was born at Königsberg in 1810, and died in 1849 -- dates which coincide with those of the birth and death of Chopin, and almost with those of Mendelssohn. His father ill-treated him, and he ran away when he was sixteen. He passed through much trial and suffering before he arrived at Berlin in 1827. But a kind helper arranged for his professional training; and when, by-and-by, he went to Rome, he zealously devoted himself to operatic composition, tempted by the facile successes of the Italians, who considered him a fellow-countryman in consequence of the i in his name.
In 1841 he was called to Vienna as Court Kapellmeister, and subsequently founded the now celebrated Philharmonic Society there. In 1844, five years before his death, he had chosen "The Merry Wives" for the subject of an opera, but it was not until March 9, 1849, at Berlin, that the work was first produced. The success was immense; but already the composer was seriously ill, and though he managed to conduct the first four performances, like Bizet with "Carmen," he lived only a few weeks to enjoy his triumph. None of his other operas have survived.