The Merry Widow at the London Coliseum
Combining traditions of opera buffa, opéra comique and the German Singspiel, Franz Lehár’s operetta The Merry Widow is a fun and fabulous show that sparkles with energy, returning to the stage over a hundred years after its first production in 1905. The Parisian parties are as effervescent as the endless flow of champagne, as we open to a party thrown by the Pontevedrin Ambassador in Paris, Baron Zeta (Andrew Shore), who seeks to arrange a suitor for the young and wealthy widow Hanna Glawari (Sarah Tynan) in order to keep her wealth in Pontevedro and thereby prevent the country’s bankruptcy.
Zeta and the court clerk Njegus (Gerard Carey) form a comedy duo who are desperately trying to ensure that Hanna does not marry a French man, which would signal an end to the high-life foreseen by the national crises. This shifting of the power dynamics is interesting, where the nation and all its elite power’s financial hopes rest on the decision of a single young woman who, as the widow, has inherited a vast sum of money but also a sense of agency that was not common to young unmarried women – or indeed married women – who have had to be subservient to notions of being a respectable wife. First premiered in Vienna in 1905, this opera, with such an emancipatory vision of the female subject, would have stood to challenge many common-held beliefs.
April De Angelis’s translation and Max Webster’s direction reimagines Lehár’s masterpiece as flashy and fantastic with a witty Hanna whose love for Danilo (Nathan Gunn) in the will-they-will-they-not style of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing inspires a dreamy Vilja while she is perched on a crescent moon above the stage. The melodic Merry Widow Waltz and Chez Maxim offer a fun chorus that is animated by Kristiina Poska’s conducting and with English lyrics by Richard Thomas.
Though Webster envisions a modern rendition of the comedy operetta, in the end Hanna dutifully hands over her wealth to her lover Danilo, which seems out of touch from the aim of the story as empowering women in the context of politics, money and power, which continue to be dominated by men.
Photo: Clive Barda
The Merry Widow is at the London Coliseum from 1st March until 13th April 2019. Book your tickets here.
Watch the trailer for The Merry Widow here: