On March 12, the USM Department of Theatre and School of Music wrapped their two-week run of Otto Nicolai’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” selling out all six shows on the Main Stage at Russell Hall in Gorham.
Only once every four years do the USM School of Music and Department of Theatre collaborate on a fully staged, full-length opera. This year’s selection, Nicolai’s version of the Shakespeare classic, offered an accessible telling of the action-packed comedy.
The opera was recently reviewed by arts critic Allan Kozinn of the Portland Press Herald:
The cast consisted of USM students studying classical voice, opera and musical theatre from Maine and beyond.
The Windsor Wives were Mrs. Alice Ford, played by junior Rachel Shukan from Woburn, MA; and Mrs. Meg Page, played by Helena Crothers-Villers from Brunswick, ME. The two friends receive identical love letters from the foolish, impoverished nobleman, Falstaff. They conspire to make Falstaff the fool by carrying out a number of pranks in retaliation of his unwanted advances, culminating in Falstaff’s humiliation at the hands of the women.
Cary Libkin, nationally and internationally recognized director, and a professor and consultant to USM’s Department of Theatre, wanted to draw attention to the feminist themes in the show. "The story goes that Queen Elizabeth was so excited by the character of Falstaff in Henry IV and Henry V that she asked him to write a play about Falstaff,” he said. “Shakespeare did that, but he actually did it from the wives' perspective. I love the fact that all the women are smart, just like in my life."
David Myers, tenor, played Fenton, one of three suitors pursuing Mr. and Mrs. Page’s daughter, Anne. Myers had a similar fondness for the female-driven plot. “Basically the women are the brains of the show. They are the ones who come up with all of the schemes, the plans. They're the ones who really know what's going on, and the men are just along for the ride.” Myers is a graduate student studying vocal pedagogy at USM. "I took quite a few years off from school and singing, and decided to go back to school as a grad student. It's a great department here. Everybody is so supportive and I'm really happy I made this decision," he said.
Despite losing over a week of rehearsals due to the unruly February weather, the performance run was a success. Rachel Shukan (Mrs. Alice Ford), a soprano and junior studying classical vocal performance, said the intention of the show is “just have fun, you know? Don’t be afraid of a joke. Don't take things too seriously.”
View cast interviews and clips from one of the final dress rehearsals below.