Giles Havergal’s version of Franz Lehár’s operetta ‘‘The Merry Widow’’ performed at the Opera North has an easy and light plot to follow, and is interweaved with opera singing, making it great not only for opera lovers but also for opera novices.
‘‘The Merry Widow’’ tells the story of Hanna Glawari, a rich widow from the fictional country of Pontevedro. The protagonist arrives in Paris to find a new husband and straightaway becomes the centre of attention of the charming French bachelors, who also take interest in other not-yet-widowed Pontevedrian women. However, in order to save their homeland from bankruptcy, the Ambassador, Baron Zeta, must ensure that Hanna marries a Pontevedrian; the most suitable candidate Count Danilo Danilovitsch, his nephew and Hanna’s former lover. The subplot revolves around the Ambassador’s wife, Valencienne, and her affair with Count Camille de Rosillon. The Widow steps up to protect another woman’s reputation, while risking her own happy ending.
Hanna and Danilo’s early relationship is best presented by the infamous ‘‘Vilja Song’’ sang by Hanna (in this role the captivating soprano singer Máire Flavin, who remained the witty and cheeky character throughout the whole performance). Giles Havergal’s version of the classic includes modern slang and 21st-century cheekiness, loved by the audience.
‘‘The Merry Widow’’ includes polkaing, waltzing, can-caning, as well as folk dancing. The most entertaining of those is the can-can scene performed by the Maxim girls and Valencienne, which relieves tension as the plot gets complicated.
A simple stage design consisting of six nude statues of women moved around during the performance, especially spectacular during the light and hilarious song ‘‘Cherchez la femme’’, and twelve two-dimensional chandeliers provide the stage with splendour and glamour of Paris. The wealth of the era is best presented by the costumes: evening gowns, tailcoats, military uniforms, diamonds, feathers. While the more modest folk Pontevedrian costumes are still eye-catching and shown no sign of the imminent bankruptcy of the state.
The best review of the operetta is the reaction of the audience: they laughed throughout the performance and left the theatre only after minutes long applause at the end.
‘‘The Merry Widow’’ is performed until 17 November.
Words & Photos by Karolina Glasek