[Met Performance] CID:23810
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/9/1900.
 (Metropolitan Opera Premiere)

Metropolitan Opera House
March 9, 1900
Metropolitan Opera Premiere

O. Nicolai-Mosenthal

Frau Fluth..............Marcella Sembrich
Frau Reich..............Ernestine Schumann-Heink
Falstaff................Fritz Friedrichs
Herr Fluth..............Theodore Bertram
Herr Reich..............Lempriere Pringle
Anna....................Olga Pevny
Fenton..................Andreas Dippel
Cajus...................Antonio Pini-Corsi
Spärlich................Hans Breuer

Conductor...............Emil Paur

Director................Pierre Baudu

Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor received one performance this season.

Alternate title: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Review of W. J. Henderson in The New York Times


Nicolai's "Merry Wives of Windsor" at the Opera

Given for the First Time at the Metropolitan

It would probably astonish many good inhabitants of Germany to learn that, while the frequenters of the Metropolitan Opera House are quite familiar with 'Die Walküre,' they never heard Otto Nicolai's "Die Lustige Weiber von Windsor" till last night. The German operatic version of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor" is one of the established favorites of the stage in the land of Kaiser Wilhelm, and it would seem natural to the Germans that an English-speaking people, fond of opera, should know it at least as well as they do. Yet it was brought forward last night at the Metropolitan with all the impressiveness attached to the first performance of a new work, and the lobbies buzzed with discussion of it between its acts, as if it were quite novel to the local stage.

As a matter of fact, Nicolal's "Merry Wives of Windsor" was last performed in this city during the week beginning April 3, 1899 at the American Theatre, by the Castle Square Opera Company. A respectable, if not altogether satisfying, presentation of the work was given at that time, and a good many honest Americans enjoyed it just as much as those at the Metropolitan last night did. The opera was first performed in this city at the Academy of Music by the American Opera Company on Feb. 5, 1886. The cast embraced Pauline L'Allemand as Mrs. Ford, Jessie Bartlett Davis as Mrs. Page, May Fielding as Anne Page, William Hamilton as Falstaff, Alonzo Stoddard as Mr. Ford, Myron W. Whitney as Mr. Page, William H. Fessenden as Fenton, John Howson as Slender, and Edward O'Mahoney as Dr. Caius. Theodore Thomas conducted the performance.

The libretto of this work follows the Shakespearean play quite closely. It may be remembered that Boito, in preparing the book for Verdi's "Falstaff," omitted some of the scenes in the original and introduced some dialogue from one of the other dramas in which the fat knight figures. Mosenthal, the librettist of the German opera, was not so bold in his treatment. He was content to take what he found and turn it into operatic shape without much alteration. The result is that the scene of the beating of the knight when disguised as the fat woman of Brentford is retained. This is omitted in the Verdi work. Mosenthal and Nicolai saw the full value of the opportunities afforded by the scene in Windsor forest, and they worked out this episode in considerable detail. The scene is indeed a favorable one for the conclusion of a comic opera. It gives ample scope for what Wagner sought in "Tannhäuser" and failed to get - a terpsichorean display of real significance; for the teasing of Falstaff by the pretended fairies is a pretty spectacle, naturally adapted to dancing, and as fanciful a piece of comedy as the most sensitive mind could wish.

But this is not the only scene in which the true comedy spirit prevails. It is equally potent in the scene of the buck basket, and the roles of Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page afford admirable opportunities for a soprano and a contralto who can act as well as sing. As for Falstaff, he is a figure of fun all the time, and it takes a real artist to interpret the part. The music of the opera is charming. Nicolai was not uninfluenced by the Italian models, but he was a true German, and his melodies have a Teutonic feeling. They are all graceful and fascinating. Those heard in the overture should he familiar to all music lovers, but they gain greatly in charm when heard in their proper places in the work. It is quite impossible to conceive an opera-goer incapable of enjoying such music as this.

Unfortunately the work contains dialogue, and in the vast spaces of the Metropolitan Opera House this is not to its advantage. Despite the vivacity of some of the performers last night, there could be no question that the passages of talk seemed dull to a large part of the audience. This was particularly the case in the inn scene, in which the burden of the work fell upon the shoulders of Fritz Friedrichs, the representative of Falstaff. Mr. Friedrichs has now firmly established himself as a "single-speech Hamilton." He has earned praise for one part, and pretty fully demonstrated that he cannot rise to the demands of any other. His Falstaff, like his Alberich, was dull, inert, devoid of significant or humorous action, and wretchedly sung. It is said that this gentleman has a huge reputation in Germany. He certainly sings badly enough to please the most thoroughly German audience in the world, but it is hard to understand how his poor acting can have won him praise in the fatherland.

The less said about the work of the men last night the better. None of them covered themselves with glory. It was reserved for Mme. Sembrich as Mrs. Ford (Fluth in the German text) and Mme. Schumann-Heink as Mrs. Page (German. Reich) to give the audience genuine amusement. These two admirable artists sang their music with skill and buoyant spirit, and acted with an abundance of vivacity and comedy. The audience thoroughly enjoyed their work, and the loudest and longest applause of the evening was theirs. Of the arrangement of the features of the last act description may for the present be deferred. The orchestra in several places showed the need of more rehearsals. M. Paur conducted with skill and enthusiasm.

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