Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

'Merry Wives' Opera Passes the Test

Cleveland Press March 15, 1966

This film version of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" makes a case for condensed opera, solves little about opera in English, and proves that opera can be successfully transferred to the screen. There are a few flaws, but they are minor.

A series of not-so-modest screen credits, indicate that the entire affair is the brain child of Norman Foster, a bass baritone who sings the role of Falstaff, produced the movie, adapted the opera, provided the English translation and probably did a few other things that slipped past me.

Part of the success of this enterprise is Foster's choice of singers who can act. Foster himself is superb as the loud, blustering Sir John Falstaff.

Cleveland's Mildred Miller is completely at ease as Mistress Page and Igor Gorin is convincing as Ford, the jealous husband.

Mistress Ford is enacted by Canadian soprano Colette Boky, who does a Brigitte Bardot bit in a bathing sequence which could change the whole pattern of opera productions. She sings, too.

Foster's adaptation retains the bulk of Nicolai's music and the heart of Shakespeare's plot. It is not difficult to get over the fact that these people are singing instead of talking.

The work is performed in English, a help in knowing what is going on most of the time. The more rapid numbers, however, proves again that there are moments when the language doesn' t matter -- you just can't make out what is being said.

The film makes great use of exterior scenery and is peopled with rustic characters. There is an obvious effort to make "Merry Wives" an operatic "Tom Jones." It's close, but doesn't quite have the flair.

There are moments when the production becomes too cinematic. The camera moves too much, there are too many characters milling about and, while closing a scene by focusing on a farm animal might be diverting, it becomes repetitious in this work.

Nicolai's overture, a frequently performed concert work, is used against the titles with Rosella Hightower dancing. While it is interesting, it doesn't fit.

Overall, this is an admirable transition of a stage work to the film medium. There are no wooden moments and it manages to be entertaining. Since the work is so-seldom performed, the movie is must for opera fans.

Mildred Miller...

Met opera singer and former Clevelander Mildred Miller stopped in her home town yesterday on behalf of this movie in which she stars.

The movie was made in Vienna, she explained, and every scene was shot twice -- once in English and again in German.

"Was it difficult?" Not at all. In fact, it was very relaxing. I didn't have to worry about my singing since we had pre-recorded the entire work before we started filming

"We went through every scene twice so that the mouthing would match the language of the sound tracks."

Miss miller has just signed her contract for next year's Met performances, her 16th season. The only opera she will sing next season is "Die Miestersinger."

She will be part of the final performance at the old Metropolitan Opera House on Apr. 16. She said that the Met singers are nostalgic about leaving the old place, and apprehensive about the acoustics in the new opera house.

Miss Miller has not sung with the Met here in five years, the last time she toured. And why hasn't she toured?

"They just haven't asked me," she said frankly.