Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The German Version of Falstaff

     The most popular musical setting of "Falstaff" to my knowledge has to be Verdi's last opera "Falstaff" premiered in 1893.  Verdi's setting has quick moments of beauty that pass by quickly, and the words are all sung.  The play Verdi's "Falstaff" is based on is Shakespeare's "The Merry Wive's of Windsor."       There are several musical settings of "The Merry Wives of Windsor." I'm sure there are settings I do not know. Antonio Salieri set his own version called "Falstaff." There is a German version by Otto Nicolai, "Die Lustigen Weiber Von Windsor" which is a Singspiel, a German opera with spoken dialogue.  Before each musical number except the overture there is spoken dialogue.  Nicolai's version of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" was his most popular work, and it was premiered in 1849, the year of his death.  The overture is a popular number in concert.  It is a delightful opera, which follows the story in a different sequence than Boito's version for Verdi.  This version has a libretto written by Salomon Hermann Mosenthal (born in Kassel, 14 January 1821; died in Vienna 17 February 1877.  This opera is the best known libretto he wrote.  He also wrote librettos for Anton Rubenstein.     Otto Nicolai wrote five other operas plus, two symphonies, lieder, and some chamber works.  A random interesting fact about Nicolai is that he supposedly hated Giuseppe Verdi's "Nabucco." Considering that they both set the same play to music, that is kind of a wild fact.  Never the less, Nicolai's life was cut short when he collapsed and died of a stroke at the age of 39.  He was elected as a member of the Prussian Arts Academy on the day of his death.  Verdi and Nicolai could have had a big rivalry, had he lived a normal life span.  It is interesting to have two different settings of "Falstaff" which could not be more different from one another.    The main difference between the two versions is the pacing musically and dramatically.  First of all, Nicolai's version as a long overture, whereas, Verdi goes right into the drama on stage.  Also, Falstaff sings a drinking song, and there are a lot more separate arias and duets in Nicolai's version.  There is spoken dialogue in Nicolai's version, whereas, in Verdi's, the ideas go by very quickly.  There is no overture and Verdi goes from one idea to the next without stopping.  Its brilliance can be overlooked because of the fast pace. Verdi's "Falstaff" is really an ensemble opera, although there are a few arias.  Ford's jealousy is a lot less pronounced in Nicolai's version.  Ford has an aria, but not a rage aria. Also, there are no horns signifying his jealousy, like in Verdi.  My final words for this are to suggest listening to both versions, since they are so different from one another.  

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