The Merry Widow: an operetta review by Victor Grynberg

January 6, 2021 by Victor Grynberg
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So there we were in the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the Sydney Opera House, about to see our first Opera Australia production since their magnificent production of the early Verdi masterpiece “Attila” had its season dramatically curtailed by the arrival of COVID fears 10 months ago.

Julie Lea Goodwin as Hanna Glavari and Dancers in Opera Australia’s production of The Merry Widow at the Sydney Opera House.                  Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

Sitting in COVID-spaced seats, with our masks on, I think there was a mixture of trepidation and eager anticipation as to what we’d be seeing.

How would OA overcome all restrictions and produce something up to their usual high standards?

I’m pleased to report that within a minute it was obvious that this was going to be a fantastic production.

Franz Lehar, the Austro-Hungarian composer wrote 30 Operettas but by far the most popular is The Merry Widow.  The overture was an introduction to an evening of superb music, highlighted by those two mega-hits “Vilja” and “The Merry Widow Waltz”. After much publicity a few months ago re changes in the personnel, the Orchestra ably led by the ever-enthusiastic Brian Castles-Onion left all the fracas behind and played the beloved score to perfection.

Much of the enjoyment for the audience on the night came from the new English translation, from master lyricist and wit Justin Fleming, much admired in recent years for “The Miser” which he produced for the Sydney Theatre Company and OA’s excellent “Whiteley”.

 

Sydney is a city rich in artistic talents, but if there was one person at the very top of that list it would be director Graeme Murphy. For over 30 years his dancing and choreography made the Sydney Dance Company, and his subsequent directing and choreographic hits are too lengthy to list. The treasure we received last night was the best dancing I’ve ever seen in a production of this operetta, so integral to this work.

Whether it was the riotous high kicks of “The Grisettes”, the sexy Maxim dancers or the socialites at their parties, there was perfection amazingly well-rehearsed to get to this level.

Richard Anderson as Alexis Kromov, David Whitney as Baron Mirko Zeta, Tom Hamilton as Konrad Pritschich, Brad Cooper as Raoul de St. Brioche, Alexander Lewis as Danilo Danilovich, Luke Gabbedy as Viscount Nicolas Cascada, Alexander Hargreaves as Dominik Bogdanovich in Opera Australia’s production of The Merry Widow at the Sydney Opera House.               Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

Thinking about the changes we’ve seen over the years, I can’t ever recall the widow herself, the marvellous Julie Lea Goodwin joining the Grisettes and doing perfect high kicks herself. Miss Goodwin’s skills are well known to OA audiences. Whether as Maria in “West Side Story”, or Musetta in “La Boheme”, there is no role she does not excel in. This was no exception and her clear and beautiful voice ensured that mega-hit “Vilja” was as enjoyable as ever.

Julie Lea Goodwin as Hanna Glavari and Alexander Lewis as Danilo Danilovich in Opera Australia’s production of The Merry Widow at the Sydney Opera House. Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

Playing her on and off again lover Danilo was another huge favourite. The son of baritone great Michael Lewis, Alexander Lewis represented the high standards we expect in Opera today. A very handsome young man, with full acting and dancing skills, he has a sweet tenor voice to deliver his wonderful arias and duets.

The support was just as strong. This was a troupe out to deliver a first-class evening for the audience. Unfaithful Valencienne, the terrific Stacey Alleaume stole the show but David Whitney as the Baron, Virgilio Marino as the frustrated Camille and personal favourite Richard Anderson were just as good.

The large chorus was in fine form so full marks to each of them and Revival Director and Choreographer Shane Placentino.

Like the enthusiastic first night audience, this reviewer had an absolutely wonderful evening, forgetting for three hours the clouds around us even if we were wearing masks.

A very full 5 stars

THE MERRY WIDOW

Opera Australia Production

Joan Sutherland Theatre

Sydney Opera House

January 5th 2021

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