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Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow": at the Metropolitan Opera, Conducted by Fabio Luisi
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Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow": at the Metropolitan Opera, Conducted by Fabio Luisi

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The Merry Widow
At the
Metropolitan Opera
Metropolitan Opera House

Music: Franz Lehár
Libretto: Viktor Léon and Leo Stein
Based on the play L’Attaché d’Ambassade
By Henri Meilhac
English Version by Jeremy Sans
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Production: Susan Stroman
Set Designer: Julian Crouch
Costume Designer: William Ivey Long
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable
Sound Designer: Mark Grey
Choreographer: Susan Stroman
General Manager: Peter Gelb
Music Director: James Levine

Hanna Glawari: Susan Graham
Count Danilo Danilovitch: Rod Gilfry
Valencienne: Andriana Chuchman
Camille De Rosillon: Stephen Costello
Bogdanovitch: Mark Schowalter
Baron Mirko Zeta: Alan Opie
Vicomte Cascada: Jeff Mattsey
Sylviane: Emalie Savoy
Olga: Wallis Giunta
Praskowia: Margaret Lattimore
Raoul De St. Brioche: Alexander Louis
Kromow: Daniel Mobbs
Pritschitsch: Gary Simpson
Njegus: Carson Elrod
Woman: Andrea Coleman
Maître D’: Jason Simon
Grisettes: Lolo (Synthia Link), Dodo (Alison Mixon),
Joujou (Emily Pynenburg), Froufrou (Leah Hoffman),
Cloclo (Jenny Laroche), Margot (Catherine Hamilton)

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 7, 2015

The Merry Widow (1905)
(Read the plot of the operetta, The Merry Widow here.)

I had not experienced Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow for decades, and tonight I had a wonderful musical reunion with the lush tones of “Merry Widow Waltz”, “Vilja”, “Maxim’s”, “Love in My Heart”, and more. Luckily, I caught the second cast of Susan Stroman’s superb new production at the Metropolitan Opera, as mezzo-soprano, Susan Graham sang the lead, Hanna Glawari, a super-wealthy widow from Pontevedro (a fantasy European country), left with a fortune by an elderly, high society husband. This comic operetta, both sung and spoken, in a new English adaptation, gave the lustrous Ms. Graham a warm spotlight for her pure virtuosity. Her Act II “Vilja”, sung at a formal party at her villa in Paris, was the pièce de résistance of the evening. She sang from full tones to bare whispers, fluidly, sensuously.

Close competition was the Act III seamless, scenic change from the villa garden to Maxim’s, with staircases, curtained interiors, bright red décor, a bar to outdo all bars ever seen on the Met stage, and flickering chandeliers. Julian Crouch, set designer, working with Ms. Stroman, who directed and choreographed this memorable Merry Widow, and William Ivey Long, costume designer, filled out a stunning dream team. The endearing Grisettes, in their quintessential can-can, cartwheels, backward flips and falls, and sexy squeals were an obvious concoction of Ms. Stroman, who has very favorably been reviewed in these pages for her City Ballet and Broadway productions, such as, respectively, Double Feature and Bullets Over Broadway. In the latter, she brought in Mr. Ivey Long for some outsized costumes. The frilly, red-white-black Grisette dresses added wit and pizazz.

The full Merry Widow plot is linked above. Count Danilo Danilovitch (baritone, Rod Gilfry), a regular at Maxim’s, on a first-name basis with the six Grisettes, like Froufrou and Cloclo, whom they greet with embraces and kisses, is another Pontevedrian and secretary of the embassy in Paris. Pontevedrian Ambassador to Paris, Baron Mirko Zeta (baritone Alan Opie) plots with embassy friends to marry off Danilo to Hanna, to keep her millions in Pontevedro, as it’s in dire need of the funds. Various, vaudevillian sub-plots involve the Baron’s wife, Valencienne (soprano, Andriana Chuchman), her secret lover, Camille de Rosillon (tenor, Stephen Costello), Njegus (Carson Elrod), Danilo’s gossipy aide, Kromow (Daniel Mobbs), the Baron’s chief of staff, Olga (Wallis Giunta), Kromow’s wife, and a very busy, lady’s fan.

I suggest that the Met Opera Playbill be expanded in future seasons to adapt the Act synopses to the production being shown, as its Playbills have generic plot outlines that relate little to minor characters and production details. It also lacks artist descriptions and vocal range for minor characters. As mentioned above, Ms. Graham was tonight’s diva, with vocal eloquence and magnetic personality. In her flirtations with her long-ago lover, Danilo, she was assertive, but understated, wily, but wanting. This was a woman who would win at all costs, and her fortune came into play in the final, poignant duet with Danilo, “I Love You So”. I would actually love to hear this operetta in the original German, with titles, because Jeremy Sans’ spoken dialogue was often much too informal. The only fault in direction was in the lack of theatricality of the leads’ spoken dialogue. It was even sitcom-ish at times. Opera stars, not used to communicating out of song, need extra practice in dynamic speech.

Fabio Luisi, Conductor, was rewarded with long audience accolades, for the Met Orchestra’s ebullient musicality and rambunctious rhythms. The waltzes and can-cans, especially, were divine. Kudos to Ms. Stroman, Mr. Crouch, Mr. Ivey Long, Paule Constable (vibrant lighting), Mark Grey (vibrant sound), Maestro Luisi, and the cast for a lovely night at the opera.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at