Otto Nicolai was born in 1810 in Königsberg into a musical family. His father Carl Ernst Nicolai was a composer and musical director. His childhood was not a happy one, his parents marriage failed, and at the age of sixteen he left home for Stargard where he was supported by a senior legal official named August Adler who treated him like a son. At the age of seventeen Nikolai moved to Berlin to study with Carl Friedrich Zelter.
In 1831 he became musician to the Prussian embassy in Rome, and he began to gain fame for his Italian operas, for which he was as highly regarded as his now more famous contemporary Guiseppe Verdi. During the 1840s his fame spread to Vienna where his works were frequently performed. In 1849 he moved to Berlin to take up the prestigious post of Director of the Berlin State Opera, but sadly two days later he suffered a major stroke and died just a few days before his 39th birthday.
The Merry Wives of Windsor was his only opera to be written in German, and dates from the last year of his life. The overture has remained a popular concert piece. It is a musical introduction to the characters of the play, full of life and energy.
Nicolai's Overture to the Merry Wives of Windsor was performed by the Portobello Orchestra on the 12th July 2014, conducted by William Church.back