Merry Widow – Franz Lehar – English National Opera
Franz Lehar’s Merry Widow is a comedy operetta in three acts, premiered in 1905 in Vienna. The story centres round the wealthy widow, Hanna Glawari, and her lovers and admirers. The popularity of this piece has led to some of our greatest opera singers performing and recording this opera.
Making his operatic debut at ENO, Max Webster, who is the Associate Director of the Old Vic Theatre in London, is the Director of this new show, with Ben Stones acting as his Set Designer. It is a brash and also at times elegant show, more in a Viennese rather than Parisian style and indeed it is quite engaging to the eye, but in this production Webster has worked on a new English book delivered by April Dangelis with new English lyrics by Richard Thomas. A lot of this new translation is interesting and works well, but then perhaps too much of Richard Thomas’s previous work – Gerry Springer the Opera – has resulted in an over-camping of the onstage offering and too numerously contrived lyrics, which left some of the audience cringing in their seats. Perhaps this is accentuated by the choreography of the busy Lizzi Gee - at times too busy - although her can-can at Maxime’s choreography in the last Act was a splendid affair.
Musically, the young sought after Estonian Conductor, Kristiina Poska, is in control of the evening’s musical proceedings. She produced rather variable pace at times and occasionally struggled with coordination between stage and pit – perhaps first night nerves – but overall the quality of the music and recognisable numbers shone through in the end.
The singing was also somewhat varied. The sparkling Sarah Tynan’s voice was at times unable to project fully into the auditorium and unfortunately in her Act 2 Vilja song, where she was beautifully perched high above the stage on top of a crescent moon, not only did she not blow us away with the singing, but as she finished her aria the moon ascended early into the sky, hiding her petite frame and voice somewhere in the rafters behind the curtain.
Her intended, Danilo, is the presentable American baritone, Nathan Gunn, who sings his heart out – romantically at times – and with Tynan pours real passion into their affair. Robert Murray and Rhian Lois are a presentable Camille and Valencienne, with Andrew Shore as the Ambassador on fine form.
But what of the beavers and the urinal competition. The least said the better!
Despite all of this, it was in the end a fun show with the audience really enjoying the overall spectacle.