The Merry Widow – Review – Leeds Grand
By Sandra Callard, September 2018
Leeds’ Opera North continue their enviable programme with Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, a sumptuous riot of elaborate Belle Epoque dresses and handsome military uniforms, mingled with the joyous melodies of Lehar.
The story is slight; a young woman marries a fabulously wealthy man after the breakdown of a previous love affair, and is widowed a week later. His money is invested mainly in the tiny Balkan country of Pontevedro, and should his widow pull out these investments it would leave the country bankrupt. She is feted 24/7 by the high flyers of Pontevedro as they parade every attractive man before her in an effort to persuade her to marry a Ponty national and keep the money in the country. Meanwhile the French have their eyes on the main chance and she is assiduously courted by them too.
The widow, Countess Hanna Glawari, is sung beautifully by Maire Flavin. She plays the game as she casts her eyes over her prospective husbands, but has no intention of marrying any of them. She still carries a torch for Count Danilo Danilovitch, a Pontevedro national who is a broken man after their previous affair ended, and will not marry Hanna for her money. Danilo is sung by Quirijin de Lang in a superb and ringing baritone, and his acting is first-class. The pairing of Flavin and de Lang works like a dream, and their voices mix in a sublime harmony.
The first act sets the above scene and is ornate and detailed. The melodies are pleasant and prolific, and the era is well-defined. The amorous indiscretions of the characters are treated lightly and amusingly, particularly as regards the Baroness Valencienne Zeta, wife of Baron Mirko Zeta. Sung by Amy Freston and Geoffrey Dolton, these two characters bounce off each other with sparkling wit, and Freston’s unexpected gymnastic abilities are as surprising as they are pleasing.
“Great élan and vivacity”
The second act explodes in a welter of famous songs and music as the tempo rises. The operatic progress towards the finale is as pleasing a journey as I have experienced in some time, and is an absolute credit to the already redoubtable Opera North. Franz Lehar’s songs and melodies are in the mould of the Strauss family, and yet are so individual that the package is irresistible.
The most famous song, the beautiful ‘Vilja’ is quite rightly repeated throughout, as is the theme song ‘The Merry Widow Waltz’. The amusing ‘Girls at Maxims’ is performed tongue-in-cheek with great élan and vivacity, and is a wonderful piece in a glorious repertoire.
The Merry Widow is a musical entertainment specifically of its time. The story is so entrenched in the past that there is nothing that has carried forward to our own time, but in this lies its strength. Reminders of past eras are in such sharp contrast to our own time that nothing tangible remains and the whole becomes somehow dreamlike and intoxicating. Only the glorious music can, and does, make the past live again for a short time.
A thoroughly satisfying production, relaxed and easy to watch, with the added and necessary bonus of glorious music and talented singers. A joy throughout.