The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe, 1905)
Franz Lahar; translated by Donald Pippin
The Merry Widow is the story of the wealthy Anna Glavari, a widow from the fictional country of Pontevedro who has recently inherited twenty million francs from her late husband. Baron Zeta, the Pontevedran ambassador to Paris, and his attachés and diplomats are determined to keep her wealth in the country, which will be ensured through her marriage to another Pontevedran. Zeta suggests Count Danilo Danilovitsch, but his plan appears to be foiled when Danilo arrives and reveals that he and Anna were in love several years earlier, but were separated by his uncle. Still hurt by the way their relationship ended, Anna attempts to ignore Danilo’s pursuits. Meanwhile, Baron Zeta’s wife Valencienne tries to resist the advances of Camille de Rosillon, a count at the Pontevedran embassy in Paris. When he writes “I love you” on her fan, she tells him that she is a devoted wife. Their flirting continues, however, until they are caught by Zeta and Anna steps in to cover for Valencienne, saying that she plans to marry Camille. This leaves both Danilo and Valencienne distraught and the rest of the ambassador’s court thoroughly confused! Will one of them step in and declare their true feelings? -- Lyric Theatre
I think that the last time I saw this show was at the San Francisco Opera back in 2001. It was a lush extravaganza with gorgeous turn of the century costumes and, if I remember correctly, a stunning Art Nouveau set. It was also completely in German, I think; the dialogue may have been English but the songs were certainly not. I wouldn't directly compare the two performances, because that's like comparing a Ming vase and a vase made for Mother's Day by a small child. They're working with completely different budgets and schedules and audiences, but each opera company brings its own something special to the stage.
The Lyric Theatre's production is naturally smaller, but much more intimate in the cozy Montgomery Theater. The entire show was in English, but the supertitles were still really helpful during the songs, since it's still difficult to understand some of the lyrics, especially when I couldn't hear the singers. I'm not sure if the theater swallows sound or if Ewa Nowicka, singing the role of the widow Anna, needed to be miked to be heard all the way in the back.
Jeannie asked me on the drive to the show if there were any famous songs that she'd recognize from The Merry Widow. My answer was, "Of course!" but I couldn't remember what those songs were, off the top of my head. Well, there's the famous "Merry Widow Waltz" and "You'll Find Me At Maxim's" - although off the top of my head, I can't think of any movies/pop culture references to "Maxim's". (The waltz is ubiquitous.)
One unfortunate sartorial choice: at her dinner party, Anna was wearing a mauve blouse with a dark purple and black striped skirt. It was not all that flattering, especially since the setting sun background was exactly the same shade as the blouse. During that scene, she looked less a merry widow than a flushed woman possibly suffering from rosacea. Alas.
But the show is fun, and the Lyric Theatre team always gives 110% in their shows.The cast is so clearly enjoying themselves throughout the show, and the playful atmosphere is contagious.