170 years of laughter through musical theater

by Deanna Maria R.

Imagine being known for laughter, comedy, and music 170 years later. For most comedians, actresses/actors, and musicians from any genre, this achievement seems a dream. Not so for German composer Otto Nicolai whose Shakespearian based comical opera, ‘The merry wives of Windsor’, premiered 170 years ago at the Berlin State Opera. Finding its way back to the same venue, Musica host, Katharina Rabillion explains that the steadfast composer died at the age of 38.

German Bass opera singer, René Pape, making his debut in the role of Falstaff, declares humor in Germany does exist, during an interview where he transformed from the pot-bellied bearded wine drinking Falstaff into himself. Staatsoper Berlin’s general music director Daniel Barenboim, who conducted the humorous score, stated, “This piece is part of the DNA of this country…”. Conductor Barenboim praised Otto Nicolai as a very important part of German history, as the founder of Vienna’s own, The Vienna Philharmonic.

The opera’s depiction of infidelity and mistrust is performed in humorous German fashion. With painted faces of angels in white singing amidst the pot-bellied Falstaff in a bathrobe, even non-opera fans may enjoy this musical comedy. Stage director, David Borsch describes the hilarious character of Falstaff, dressed-up, in one scene, as a woman, as ‘killing time’ waiting for his next conquest. When Otto Nicolai created this piece, he probably never thought his Shakespearean based humorous German opera would span more than a century and be enjoyed by many to this day.