Michael Tanner

Irrestible nights

Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor is something I have been longing to see for the whole of my opera-going life. No one, surely, can fail to fall in love with the overture, which used to be the opening item of very many concerts when they began in that kind of way. Such irresistible tunes are bound to come round again later in the work, and I found, when I first got a recording of it, that they all do apart from the most gorgeous, which only recurs in Meistersinger (as Wagner smilingly acknowledged). So I was happy to make the long trek for the first time to Buxton, hoping that the production would be so good that some other operatic companies might be encouraged to stage it. And it was.

Buxton Opera House is an ideal venue for it, and indeed I’d happily see many works there if only it weren’t situated quite so awkwardly. The small size of the auditorium meant that the singers didn’t have to shout, and a large proportion of the sung text was audible; the spoken parts were intelligently lifted from Shakespeare, and even made me feel that I should at last read a work I have always looked on with dread.

On the rare occasions that someone writes about this opera, they always feel the need to discount ‘the Verdi issue’ or to confront it. The main point to make is that this is undoubtedly a case where one opera has effectively sabotaged another, at any rate so far as productions go. In German-speaking countries, Die lustigen Weiber has retained a foothold, or it did until it was agreed that Falstaff was not only Verdi’s greatest opera, but anyone’s, which seems an absurd judgment, but one which has some years to go yet.

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