This widow made her audience merry…an operetta review by Victor Grynberg

January 8, 2018 by Victor Grynberg
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There were high expectations for the new production of Franz Lehar’s biggest hit The Merry Widow when it opened in Melbourne in November.

Danielle de Niese as Hanna Glavari in Opera Australia’s production of The Merry Widow at the Arts Centre Melbourne.
Photo credit Jeff Busby.

The direction and choreography were by Australia’s finest ever choreographer Graeme Murphy and his life partner Janet Vernon. The advance publicity about star Danielle De Niese had been enticing and of course everyone loves the schmaltzy tunes of Lehar.

It’s fair to say that from opening scene to the end, the audience’s reactions exceeded even that expectation.

Set in the 1920’s flapper era with a ravishing art deco opening set by Michael Scott-Mitchell and excellent costuming by Jennifer Irwin, the spirit and comedy of the work captivated the full house.

This work has features a fair share of spoken parts so instead of the German we’re all used to we got a rhyming and  witty translation by local playwright  Justin Fleming. Most enjoyable.

With a miked cast, it was much easier to appreciate the humour by just listening to the performers rather than having to look up constantly at the surtitles..

Supported by a strong cast including David Whitney as the maybe jilted Baron, Stacey Alleaume as his maybe respectful wife and John Longmuir as her desperately would be love Rasillon.

It is the outstanding performance of Danielle De Niese as widow Hanna Glavari which makes this production unforgettable. She commands the stage from the moment she enters, singing just superbly. Of course we all love Vilja and the rapturous applause after the song, reflected the audience’s reaction. Miss de Niese looks every bit The Merry Widow, pretending to love one man but desperately keen on another her childhood love Danilo. Sung and acted extraordinarily well by Alexander Lewis son of baritone Michael, a stalwart of Opera Australia.

Alexander Lewis as Danilo Danilovich and Danielle de Niese as Hanna Glavari in Opera Australia’s production of The Merry Widow at the Arts Centre Melbourne.
Photo credit Jeff Busby.

As if it is not enough to sing and act excellently the superbly talented Miss de Niese joins the company’s dancers “Grisettes” in a rousing gallop.

A constant highlight of the performance is the choreography. You hire the best, you get the best. We’ve been blessed with the talents of Murphy and Vernon for over 30 years. Lucky Melbourne and Sydney.

OA please bring de Niese  back as soon as possible. And do The Merry Widow for a season every New Year, as does the Met in NY.

This is an operetta, so the heroine doesn’t die and the story ends with everyone happy and pairing off with the right partner.

The enthusiastic standing ovation was well-deserved as each part of this production was of the highest standards.

The orchestra in the recently  enlarged pit sounded perfect conducted by the talented Vanessa Scammell. How timely to see a woman conductor getting the acknowledgement she richly  deserves.

The supporting cast, the chorus and especially the energetic dancers were all at their best.

A production that would not be out-of-place in New York or London.

Go see this while it’s on. You’ll leave happy and MERRY.


The Merry Widow

Opera Australia

Sydney Opera House until February 3

5 stars


3 Responses to “This widow made her audience merry…an operetta review by Victor Grynberg”
  1. Herbert Sternberg says:

    Your description of “the schmalzy tunes of Lehar” is a slap-in-the face to a great composer. Would you describe the “tunes” of Puccini in similar vein ?

    • victor grynberg says:

      Thanks Herbert for your question.Leon and Stein actually wanted famous critic Richard Heuberger to write the score. but when they heard his first act score, he lost the commission. Wilhelm Karczag, who was going to direct the Operetta was not impressed by the music of Lehar and rejected his name. But Theatre Secretary Emil Steininger pushed for Lehar. And when Stein heard the first piece Lehar had written, hegot the job. But why “Schmaltzy’? Herbert, that’s what the world thinks of this music, and why iyt’s been a hit everywhere for well over a hundred years.
      No crime in being Schmaltzy.
      Puccini’s melodies I always describe as divine.

      • Herbert Sternberg says:

        Thank you for sending me the plagiarised information from the programme. completely irrelevent !. The WORLD thinks Lehar’s music is schmalzy ? Please let me know your evidence. Schmalzy is certainly not a crime, I agree, but it is a derogatory description of Music.

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