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Review: 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' in Narrowsburg

By Marcus Kalipolites - For the Times Herald-Record - August 14, 2012

LAKE HUNTINGTON — Otto Nicolai may not be as well-known as Verdim but he did, nevertheless, compose one of the funniest comic operas of the 19th century. Based on Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor," Nicolai's adaptation enhances the original play with beautiful arias and an attractive overture, which has become a stand-alone staple in symphony orchestra concerts.

In his directing of this overture in Saturday night's presentation of the Delaware Valley Opera production, Scott Jackson Wiley drew a sparkling rendition of the opener from his 10-piece orchestra with sounds comparable to that of a much larger ensemble.

Then, setting the comedy in motion at the Sullivan West High School Auditorium is Mrs. Ford's snickering response to a love letter she receives from a drunk and slovenly Falstaff. Anna Viemeister, as the shocked woman, unleashes her character's feelings in an engaging coloratura aria and elaborate recitative that reveals a strong and expressive voice.

With Danielle Horta in the role of Mrs. Page (another letter recipient), the two neighbors scheme, not only for condemnation but also comical retribution, to teach the would-be philanderer a lesson in a duet of soaring emotions put forth in florid singing and hop-skip dancing.

But while Falstaff (Ed Moran) longs for false love, John Kaneklides as Fenton looks for honest romance in a warm and engaging aria as he appeals to an unreceptive Mr. Page (Jeremy Griffin) for the privilege of courting his daughter Anne (Alexandra Haines). Undismayed, the heroic tenor and the lyric soprano later engage in the most touching moments of the opera as they share "forevermore" promises to the accompaniment of quietly sweeping obbligatos by violinist Rachel Lever.

Back to the "aria-of-anticipation" before Falstaff arrives, Viemeister delivers yet another example of fulsome singing as her character receives, ridicules and fights off hugs by the clownish intruder. With the arrival of her suspicious and furious husband, Julian Whitley imbues Ford's character with the fury of a boxer in his own aria of indignation, but not before Falstaff is hastily dispatched with dirty laundry.

Back at the Garter Inn, Falstaff enjoys his home turf with a rollicking drinking song before Mr. Ford, under false pretenses, pays the braggart to expose his wife's supposed affair. Soon enough, a powerful "duet-argument" erupts in which rapid patter by Falstaff is joined with horrified interjections by the mystified husband.

Meanwhile, the suitors Fenton, Slender (George Hemcher) and Dr. Cajus (Georgios Papadimitriou) engage Anne in a four-part musical discourse as each of the three men puts forth his own argument for her acceptance. By the final curtain, as is the norm in comic operas, "All's well that ends well."

With remarkable singing, colorful and quaint costumes by Nancy Hobbs and efficient design by Kay Hines (including a large backdrop of the Globe Theatre), Delaware Valley Opera, as in "Merry Wives," continues to stage top-quality opera productions.