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“Merry Wives of Windsor" operatic comedy takes '70s twist

The romantic bumblings of the Shakespeare-inspired character Falstaff are reimagined in disco-era America in Oklahoma City University’s new production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” OCU’s version of Otto Nicolai’s 1849 operatic comedy will be presented in three performances, Feb. 16-18, by a 43-piece orchestra and cast of 32.

“When our team began design discussions, we were all drawn to the early 1970s, a time of generational conflict and social upheaval that could illuminate the characters’ conflicts in our story,” director Karen Coe Miller said of the production’s design inspiration. “Shakespeare’s archetypal characters have their antecedents in ancient Roman comedy, and are still recognizable in any TV sitcom.”

“The Merry Wives of Windsor” centers on the scheming Sir John Falstaff, who plans to strike it rich by seducing the wives of two wealthy businessmen. The women, however, discover his scheme and enjoy exacting their revenge.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 and 17, with a 2 p.m. Feb. 18 matinee, in OCU’s Kirkpatrick Auditorium, 2501 N. Blackwelder. Tickets ($15-30) are available from 405-208-5227 or okcu.edu/tickets. A free director’s talk will be held 45 minutes before curtain of each show.

An opening night dinner with student entertainment will be held at 6:15 p.m. Friday in the atrium of the Bass Music Center. Reservations ($25) may be made through the ticket office.

Jan McDaniel will conduct the pit orchestra in performing Nicolai’s score, which Gramophone praised: “The brilliant and justly celebrated overture is no false guide to what follows. Nicolai’s touch is light and witty… The orchestration is constantly imaginative, and the melodies flow one after another, repeatedly warming the listener’s heart with some extra-delicious touch.”

The 1970s setting will be enhanced with scenic design by Robin Cole-Vest, original costumes by Alyssa Couturier-Hendon, and lighting design created by Kennedy Nichols.

Tributes to the character of Falstaff, who appears in three of Shakespeare’s plays, include operatic adaptations across three centuries. In addition to Nicolai’s version, Antonio Salieri debuted his Falstaff in 1799, Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff premiered in 1893, followed in 1929 by Ralph Vaughn Williams’ “Sir John in Love.”

OCU’s Oklahoma Opera and Music Theater Company’s season continues Feb. 23-25 with a spotlight production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe” before the April 19-21 season finale — Jonathan Larson’s acclaimed rock musical “RENT,” winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

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