Bel Canto Opera’s 2004 Production

The Merry Wives of Windsor

by Otto Nicolai

with a new English libretto and stage direction by Tom Boyd

Music director - William Bell


"Hilarious uproarious opera... Nicolai's version of Shakespeare's play abounds in glorious music and drama... Tom Boyd's production returns the action to its English roots...This is no pared down production... The final night scene in Windsor Great Park is quite magical. William Bell directs the music with zest." -- The Gloucestershire ECHO

 "OK, Nicolai was no Verdi, but via Tom Boyd's splendidly witty and suitably irreverent new English translation, the company does make a cracking good case for its unusual choice. There are lots of charming, and jolly tunes for a start, played here with a suitably light touch by the Bel Canto Orchestra, under William Bell." -- The Oxford TIMES

"An evening of delight and laughter... the singing and acting were excellent...Tom Boyd turned it back into a very English entertainment... The orchestra, conducted by William Bell, did great credit to Nicolai's score, the costumes were spectacular and the English translation was a great treat." -- The Wilts. & Gloucestershire STANDARD

(click here for full reviews of the Bel Canto Opera production)

CLICK ABOVE to watch Anne Page as Titania elope with Fenton, her Oberon xxxx CLICK ABOVE to see Mistresses Ford and Page reading their letters from Falstaff

The Bingham Hall, Cirencester, 20 & 21 February - The Playhouse, Cheltenham, 24, 25, 27 & 28 February



Mistress Alice Ford - Susan Black;; Mistress Meg Page - Maria Jagusz; Sir John Falstaff - Martin Lamb; Master Frank Ford - Robert Bateman; Master George Page - Deryck Hamon; Anne Page - Pamela Hay; Fenton - Paul Badley; Slender - David Bennett; Doctor Caius - Tim Cranmore; Mistress Quickly - Jayne Lloyd

CLICK ABOVE to watch Fenton wooing Anne Page xxxx CLICK ABOVE to watch the duet between Falstaff and Master Ford posing as Master Brook


FALSTAFF (to Pistol and Nim): Briefly I do mean to make love to Ford’s wife. I have writ me here a letter to her; and here another to Page’s wife. She bears a goodly purse too. They shall be my East and my West Indies, and I will trade with them both. We will thrive. Lads, we will thrive.






Datchet Lane, Windsor: THE OVERTURE


MISTRESS FORD: You’ve besmirched our reputation! You will pay for this, my friend, with far more humiliation than such umbrage might portend.

MISTRESS PAGE: Such a shameful provocation - two fine ladies you offend! We’ll devise retaliation to chastise you in the end.

BOTH: So lets get cracking with the plan and bait the trap that traps the man. We’ll entertain that vain old fool and cook his goose with ridicule!




FENTON: ’Tis more than mere infatuation, my love is clearly here to stay. You too will rue our separation if you discredit what I say, and turn her one true love away.

MASTER PAGE:(aside) Master Fenton’s tongue may drip of honey, but he’s squandered all his family’s money! Rich from wool when he was the family black sheep has been shorn. Slender has a fat account, and in land a huge amount, and from his investments he can clear six or seven hundred pounds a year. He’s a better bet for Anne. She will learn to love the richer man.

ALICE FORD: One should face life with a laugh... take it nice and easy. If you’re bright and breezy, you’ll not feel your years. She who’s pert and witty stays both young and pretty. Wives who are wise keep their eyes free from tears. Carefree and gay is the heart that endears.
FALSTAFF: Abjure your doubt and sorrow, secure in my amour.

MISTRESS FORD: But what about tomorrow? Will my allure endure?

FALSTAFF: Your allure, age cannot stale or wither...

MISTRESS FORD: Where did you get that line?

FALSTAFF: The world’s a stage, so come play hither.

MISTRESS FORD: How could I now decline? You’ve won this heart of mine...but Meg Page too is thine!

MASTER FORD (disguised as Master Brook) & FALSTAFF: Rejoice my friend, Rejoice my friend, our plan, you will discover, will be successful in the end and we’ll both be her lover. The husband whom his mistress scorns, for us will wear a pair of horns! Today’s the day and come what may, with Mistress Ford we’ll have our way, for as they say: "when cats will stray, the mouse will play" Today’s the day! Farewell, Sir!

CLICK HERE to see and hear this duet on YouTube


SLENDER: Take courage, Slender, brave it out! Be plucky as you’d planned. A swain who’s tender, brave and devout shall win the lady’s hand. Someone’s coming! Oh dear, oh dear...I fear! Ay, there’s the rub. I’ll have to hide behind that shrub!

DR. CAIUS: Show me zose rivals! I shall pierce zem t’rought ze coeur. I swear it, par honneur! Par exemple, ce miserable Slender. Where can ’e be? ’E ’ides from me! If ’im I see, by gar, I’ll ’ave ’is guts for my suspender!

ANNE PAGE( to FENTON): Just you wait ...and be brave. Father’s temper I shall sooth, dear. When irate, he will rave... but the course of true love never did run smooth, dear. If we wait...and behave...we’ll achieve the fate we crave!

CLICK HERE to see and hear this duet followed by quartet on YouTube

MISTRESS PAGE: Old Herne the Hunter, who's long since dead, is often seen in Windsor, 'tis said. Day in, day out, when the moon is alight, he hunts and haunts the forest at night He wears, here on his head, the antlers, just as a deer, and fills with dread those who've seen him here. There's one old oak where he stays at night...where milk cows gather to graze at night...the devil's revels, he plays at night; he changes their milk to blood, they say, and steals their calves and poisons their hay...and then disappears in a puff of smoke, beneath the tree that they call Herne's Oak!

ANNE PAGE: How fortunate I am. Each of my parents desires to deceive the other, which gives their daughter full licence to deceive them both. I shall send the red costume to Squire Slender and the green one to Doctor Caius so each will believe that I am the other. And I shall be Titania, Queen of the Fairies, so that sweet Fenton, my Oberon, will perceive me in white. I too, and soon, shall a merry wife of Windsor be.


MISTRESS QUICKLY: Good hearts, what ado there is to bring you together.

FALSTAFF: In the disguise of Herne the Hunter shall I meet Mistress Ford at Herne's Oak at midnight. This is the third time. I hope good luck lies in odd numbers. There is divinity in odd numbers, either in nativity, chance or death.

MISTRESS QUICKLY: I'll provide you a chain and do what I can to get you a pair of horns,


WINDSOR GREAT PARK: Herne's Oak at midnight


TOWNSFOLK: O silver moon, illume the sky and grace the site where lovers lie. The stars festoon the midnight sky, O shine sweet moon when love is nigh.


FAIRIES: Come fairies, grey and green and white, ye elves and revellers of the night. O’er hill, o’er dale, to dance and sing, and join hobgoblins in a ring. Come fairies, back to being gay! Come elves and dance till break of day!
FALSTAFF: Remember Jove, thou changed to bull till rutting urge was gone. If Jove, a god, turned beast for lust, that makes my bestial scheme seem just. By Jove, I do only what thou dost! But hark! Who comes on tippy-toe? Methinks ’twill be my dainty doe.
MASTER PAGE: Midges, hornets, wasps and flies, come in swarms and blind his eyes, sting the sinner, stab and bite! Let him have no peace tonight!

THE TOWNSPEOPLE OF WINDSOR: Fie on sinful fantasy! Fie on lust and luxury! Lust is but a bloody fire re-kindled with unchaste desire. He who schemes for another's degradation often finds he's the victim of the plot. When man's wives you approach for fornication, you must be discerning - and that is what you're not! Wicked satyr, heinous traitor, you deserve humiliation! Instigator, fornicator, figure of abomination! Vile blasphemer, evil schemer, we shall have our vindication! You'll be shattered, you'll be battered, if you don't repent. Pinch him! Punch him! Kick him! Stab him! Grab him! Wicked satyr! Heinous traitor! Fornicator!

MISTRESS PAGE (to Anne): Now, Mistress, how chance you went not with Squire Slender? MASTER PAGE: Why went you not with Master Doctor, Maid?

FENTON: You do amaze her. Hear the truth of it. You would have married her most shamefully, where there was no proportion held in love. The truth is, she and I have long contracted... are now so sure that nothing can dissolve us. Th’offence is holy that she hath committed, and this deceit loses the name of craft, of disobedience, or unduteous title, since therein she doth avoid and shun a thousand irreligeous cursed hours which forced marriage would have brought her.

MASTER PAGE: Well, what remedy? Fenton, heaven give thee joy! What cannot be eschewed must be embraced.

MASTER FORD: ...Sir John, to Master Brook you shall yet hold your word, for he tonight shall lie with Mistress Ford.

MISTRESS FORD, ANNE & MISTRESS PAGE: Sir John, Sir John, Sir John...let this a lesson be! Time now for charity.We forgive thee... we forgive thee. FALSTAFF: Gramercy! Gramercy!

All above photos by Roger Phillips


The Gloucestershire ECHO

Layabout makes hilarious comedy

Take a conniving, lecherous layabout with an inflated ego and two scheming middle-aged housewives determined to trim his sails and you have the makings of an uproarious comic opera. Nicolai's version of Shakespeare's play abounds in glorious music, shrewd characterisation and dramatic impact.

Tom Boyd's production returns the action to its English roots and brings together two of the region's leading vocal talents as the mischievous duo. The roles of Mistress Ford and Mistress Page seem tailor-made for Susan Black and Maria Jagusz. You feel a tinge of pity for the butt of their japes, the mega-obese Falstaff (Martin Lamb), whose gorgeous baritone voice almost compensates for his despicable behaviour.

Robert Bateman's strong portrayal of Mistress Ford's pathologically jealous husband gives the action a dramatic edge. Romantic interest is provided by the adorable Anne Page, beautifully acted and sung by Pamela Hay, who outwits her parents to get the man she loves. With his good looks and terrific lyrical tenor voice, Paul Badley playing Fenton is everything a girl could wish for.

This is no pared down production, but boasts an ample orchestra and chorus plus a well trained corps de ballet of milkmaids, morris dancers, fairies and insects - yes, insects! The final night scene in Windsor Great Park is quite magical. William Bell directs the music with zest.

Roger Jones, music critic of the Gloucestershire ECHO


The Oxford TIMES

Two merry wives. Each bears "a goodly purse" -- very useful when your bar slate is mounting up at a rate of £10 a week. That was an awful lot of money in King Henry IV's England. But how about availability? "O, she did so examine my portly exteriors with such greedy intention, that the appetite of her eye did seem to scorch me up like a burning glass," alleges Sir John Falstaff.

Shakespeare's comedy has been the inspiration for no fewer than four operas, with Verdi's Falstaff heading the list. But Bel Canto Opera has chosen Otto Nicolai's Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor. OK, Nicolai was no Verdi, but via Tom Boyd's splendidly witty and suitably irreverent new English translation, the company does make a cracking good case for its unusual choice. There are lots of charming, and jolly tunes for a start, played here with a suitably light touch by the Bel Canto Orchestra, under William Bell.

Meanwhile, up on stage Martin Lamb's chunky, well-sung Falstaff sets about his intended conquests, as he despatches drinking cronies Pistol (Peter Whittingham) and Nim (Mike Vickers) with, no doubt, beer-stained letters to Mistresses Alice Ford and Meg Page. Both redoubtable ladies present themselves as characters who know what's what -- as Alice, Susan Black sings and acts strongly, whereas Maria Jagusz as Meg had to rely slightly more on her acting on opening night, owing to a pre-announced throat infection. But, all praise to her, you rapidly forgot that there was anything wrong. Down the cast, there is a poignant performance from Paul Badley as the non-parentally approved suitor of Anne (Pamela Hay), the Pages' daughter. Also included are two ballet interludes and some splendidly psychedelic insects. Yes, this production is too long, and there are some rough edges. But somehow nothing detracts from the undoubted, good-natured charm of the whole.

Giles Woodforde, critic for the Oxford Times


The Wilts. & Gloucestershire STANDARD

Audience treated to a delightful new version of an opera classic


Cirencester audiences were treated to an evening of delight and laughter when Bel Canto Opera brought the musical version of The Merry Wives of Windsor to the Bingham Hall last week

This often neglected opera, based on the play that is thought to have been written by Shakespeare at the express request of Queen Elizabeth, was composed by Otto Nicolai but has been largely overshadowed by Verdi's Falstaff. Its revival by Bel Canto, in an English translation by director Tom Boyd, turned it back into a very English entertainment.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a tale of intrigue, mistaken identity and retribution, all on a light-hearted scale

When Falstaff decides to seduce Mistresses Ford and Page, he finds he has bitten off more than even he can chew and his punishments are being thrown into the Thames in a gigantic laundry basket, having to beat a hasty retreat disguised as an old woman, and being made a fool of by a crowd of townsfolk in a wood at midnight, dressed as Herne the Hunter!

And that's not counting the sub-plot of Mistress Page's daughter and her lovers.

In the Bel Canto version the singing and acting were excellent, by the three principals, Martin Lamb as Falstaff, Susan Black as a particularly dynamic Mistress Ford and Maria Jagusz who gave a talented performance in spite of a throat infection, but also by the rest of the cast and chorus.

The orchestra, conducted by William Bell, founder of Bel Canto Opera in 1989, did great credit to Nicolai's score, the costumes were spectacular and the English translation was a great treat.

What a pity there's a year to wait before Bel Canto Opera's next production.


Di Alexander - drama critic for Wilts & Glos. Standard


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