A Comic Opera in Three Acts (after Shakespeare's Comedy)
Music by OTTO NICOLAI
Recitations by HEINRICH PROCH
English Text by D. MILLAR CRAIG
Servants, Revellers, Citizens of Windsor.
THE WIRELESS CHORUS
(Chorus-Master, STANFORD ROBINSON )
THE WIRELESS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
(Leader, S. KNEALE KELLEY )
Under the direction of PERCY PITT
Act I. A Courtyard
Act II. A Room in the Garter Inn
Act III. A Room in Page's House
THE MERRY WIVES, Nicolai's gay Opera based on Shakespeare's comedy, was produced in 1849, only a couple of months before the composer's death at the age of thirty-nine.
The Overture, one of our favourite concert pieces, gives us a glimpse of the many doings in the Opera.
Scene 1. A courtyard before the houses of Page (left) and Ford (right)
MISTRESS FORD comes out of her house with a love-letter from Falstaff, the 'pompous impudenceâ€™ of which annoys her. She meets Mistress Page, who also has had a love-letter from the knight. They determine to hatch a plot for bringing him into public ridicule, and go off to begin upon it. Now come in Ford, Page, Slender, and Dr. Caius. The two latter are rivals for the hand of Anne, Page's daughter. The father favours Slender, the mother, Caius. Ford is unable to hear the name of woman without showing how jealous he is of anyone's paying attention to his wife.
The young man, Fenton, begs a word with Page. He also seeks the hand of Anne, and pleads his cause to her father. But he is poor, and Slender's wealth pleads much more potently. Page refuses to allow the youth to go near his daughter, but Fenton declares he will win her.
Scene 2. A room in Ford's house
Mistress Ford and Mistress Page have planned their revenge on Falstaff, and are met to entrap him, and at the same time to punish Ford for his silly jealousy. Mistress Page has sent an anonymous letter to Ford, telling him that if he will appear at a certain time, he will surprise his wife with a lover. The two have also sent Falstaff a message saving that he is to come to Ford's house.
Now Mistress Page hides, and Falstaff bounces in and would embrace Mistress Ford, whilst Mistress Page quietly slips out, and in a few moments knocks at the door in agitation. She is let in, and tells Mistress Ford that her husband is suspicious, and is coming to search the room. Mistress Page pretends great surprise at seeing Sir John there, and charges him with sending love-letters to her as well. He admits it, and swears he loves her too. The two ladies help him to hide in a basket of clothes. Then Mistress Ford calls her servants and tells. them to take it to the washing pool; in a whisper she adds, 'Throw it in the deepest place.â€™ As the men are raising the basket, in comes Page, with Ford, Slender, Caius, and other friends and onlookers. Ford declares his wife false to him, and storms away to search other rooms. When he comes back, his wife pretends to be heartbroken, and upbraids him. He is forced to beg her forgiveness.
Scene I. A room in the Garter Inn. Next day.
Falstaff is in a dismal mood, after being soused in the washing pool. A servant brings him a note from Mistress Ford, making another appointment, for a time when her husband will be out hunting. The ever-hopeful knight is at once gay again. After he has had a brief drinking contest with some cronies, a waiter brings him a note from a cavalier, one Brook, who would see him. Brook is really Ford in disguise. He tells Falstaff a tale of being in love with 'one Mistress Fordâ€™, whom he is afraid to approach; but if Falstaff will go to her, she surely cannot resist so gallant a lover. Brook argues that if Falstaff can persuade her to put aside her lofty superiority to lovers, then he, Brook, may the better urge his suit afterwards, if he lets her know that he is aware of her having one lover. (At every other sentence he is reviling the knight in an aside, whilst flattering him aloud.) Falstaff tells the tale of his adventures at Ford's house yesterday, and of his escape in the basket. Ford is nearly beside himself with smothered rage when he hears that his wife has made another appointment with the knight. The two go off together, the one to meet the lady and the other to spy upon the meeting.
Scene 2. The garden behind Page's house.
The timid Slender has come to pay court to Anne Page. So has the brisk Dr. Caius. Slender hears him and hides. In turn Caius, hearing. Fenton singing as he comes along, hides. Anne comes out and greets her lover, whilst Slender, and Caius peep out and dance with rage at hearing themselves ridiculed.
Scene 3. A room in Ford's House.
Mistress Ford and Falstaff enter. She has condoled with the knight for his sufferings, and he has no suspicions. Again Mistress Page knocks and tells them that Ford has learnt of yesterday's trick, and is coming to have vengeance on all concerned. Falstaff is in terror. Mistress Ford bethinks herself of a frock left by the fat wife of Brentford, her maid's aunt. They hustle Falstaff out to put it on, and a moment later Ford comes in, in a cold rage. He would search the other room. His wife forbids him, and stands before the door. His rage boils up, and just then the servants bring in the linen-basket. Thinking that the same trick is being tried again, he dashes at it and drags out the clothes; but no Falstaff is there.
Now Caius and the neighbour come in, and Ford, working himself into a frenzy, insists on entering the next room. Very well, says his wife, and calls to Mistress Page to 'bring the poor old woman out.' Ford has forbidden the fat wife to come to the house, and as she totters out, he beats her.
Scene I. A room in Page's House.
Master and Mistress Ford, Master and Mistress - Page and Anne are together. Poor Ford, deceived again, begs his wife's forgiveness for his jealousy. He has been told of Falstaff's love-letter and of the women's plot to fool the knight. Now they are all in council to punish him thoroughly. Mistress Page recalls to them the legend of Herne the Hunter who, for slaying a stag by the holy oak in Windsor Park, was condemned to go hunting as a ghost for ever. Falstaff is to be told to come to the oak by night, disguised as Herne, and then a crowd of friends and children, in disguise, is to belabour him soundly. Mistress Page, in addition, has a little plot of her own for getting her way about her daughter's marriage. She intends that Anne shall marry Dr. Caius, and bids the girl dress as a red elf. (by which Caius will know her). After Mistress Page has gone out, her husband comes to Anne with his plot - that she shall be married to the man of his choice - Slender. She is to appear in the revels as a green elf, so that Slender can recognize her. Anne puts her spoke into the wheel by sending the costume of the red elf to Slender and that of the green one to Caius - so that each of them will believe the other is herself. But Fenton shall be let into the secret, for he is to wed her, and no other.
Scene 2. Herne's Oak.
Falstaff, disguised as Herne, comes on; Mistress Ford and Mistress Page greet him affectionately, to his great delight. But soon there is an outcry, and the revellers, disguised as elves and ghosts, appear, with Anne as Titania. Falstaff is found and dragged forward. He falls down before Page, whilst other revellers, disguised as gnats, wasps, flies, and so on, with silver darts, come and dance round poor Falstaff.
Caius and Slender, as green and red elves, enter from opposite sides. They mistake each other for Anne, and embrace, whilst Falstaff roars for mercy. Disguises are thrown off, and the knight sees how he has been tricked. The two wives insist that their lords must grant the young lovers their blessing, and all ends in merriment.