Personalities | Carl Otto Ehrenfried Nicolai | Early Romantic | Opera
Although Otto Nicolai was born in Kaliningrad, northwest of Moscow, he is classed as a German composer. Between 1833 and 1836, Nicolai was organist at the Prussian Chapel in Rome where he became fascinated with opera. His first work for the opera stage, Enrico II (‘Henry II’, 1839) was enthusiastically received in Trieste. Best known as a conductor, Nicolai cleverly combined this career with the opera by becoming principal conductor at the Vienna Hofoper in 1841. One of his first tasks was to introduce the ‘Leonora No. 3’ overture as an entr’acte at a performance of Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio. After six years in Vienna, Nicolai moved to Berlin, where he became opera Kapellmeister and cathedral choir director in 1848. In Berlin, Nicolai wrote his Romantic comic opera Die lüstigen Weiber von Windsor (‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’, 1849), which was based on Shakespeare’s comedy of that name. In this work, which marked the apogee of German comic opera, Nicolai skilfully married German musical traditions with the fluent melodic grace of the style he imbibed in Italy. Die lüstigen, Nicolai’s masterpiece, premiered in Berlin on 9 March 1849 and only just in time. Two months later, Nicolai was dead.
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