American Ballet Theatre
The Merry Widow
Metropolitan Opera House
Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova, Georgina Parkinson
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Susan Morgan, Press Associate
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 2, 2008
(Read More ABT Reviews)
The Merry Widow (1997): Choreography by Ronald Hynd, Scenario by Sir Robert Helpmann and Ronald Hynd, Original book by Victor Leon and Leo Stein, Music by Franz Lehar, Musical adaptation by John Lanchbery, Sets and costumes by Desmond Heeley, Lighting design by Michael Whitfield, Assistant to Mr. Hynd: Annette Page.
The country of Pontevedro is bankrupt, but Baron Mirko Zeta, the ambassador, and his wife, Valencienne, tell the French attaché and other officials that Hanna Glawari, a very wealthy and recently widowed Pontevedrian, will attend the ball that night and that her wealth will disappear if she marries a foreigner. So they all set up the alcoholic, Count Danilo Danilovitch to woo Hanna and marry her, so the country can retain her wealth. A side romance is revealed, Valencienne and Camille de Rosillon, the attaché. As it happens, Hanna and Count Danilo used to be lovers, before Hanna married into money, and Danilo now wants her back. Hanna rejects him, as he had once rejected her. A waltz ensues at the ball, and they succumb in their closeness.
There are national Pontevedrian dances at a soirée at Hanna’s villa, where Valencienne and Camille hide together in a pavilion in the garden. Hanna rescues her friend, Valencienne, by sneaking into that pavilion so Valencienne can escape. Hanna then leaves the pavilion with Camille and then announces she will marry Camille soon, enraging Danilo, who still loves her. Before the Pontevedrians go bankrupt, they wine and dance at Chez Maxim’s, where Camille appears to woo Valencienne once more. Hanna also appears, and Danilo challenges Camille to a duel, which proves his love for Hanna. Valencienne waltzes with Camille, and finally Hanna waltzes with Danilo, sealing their future. (Based on Program Notes).
Cast on June 30, 2008:
Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins
Julie Kent as Hanna Glawari, a wealthy Pontevedrian widow, Victor Barbee as Baron Mirko Zeta, a Pontevedrian ambassador to France, Xiomara Reyes as Valencienne, his wife, Jose Manuel Carreño, as Count Danilo Danilovitch, first secretary of the Pontevedrian Embassy, Gennadi Saveliev as Camille de Rosillon, French attaché at the embassy, Carlos Lopez as Njegus, private secretary to the ambassador, Craig Salstein as Kromov, undersecretary at the embassy, Jared Matthews as Pritsch, undersecretary at the embassy, Joseph Philips as Leading Pontevedrian dancer, Misty Copeland and Anne Milewski as Magda and Ludmila, two Pontevedrian ladies, Mikhail Ilyin as Maitre d’, Chez Maxim’s, Simone Messmer as An enraged client, Jacquelyn Reyes as Her friend, Isabella Boylston, Marian Butler, Karin Ellis-Wentz, Luciana Paris, Renata Pavam, and Christine Shevchenko as Can-Can ladies, and the Company.
Cast on July 2, 2008:
Conductor: Charles Barker
Irina Dvorovenko as Hanna Glawari, a wealthy Pontevedrian widow, Roman Zhurbin as Baron Mirko Zeta, a Pontevedrian ambassador to France, Yuriko Kajiya as Valencienne, his wife, Maxim Beloserkovsky, as Count Danilo Danilovitch, first secretary of the Pontevedrian Embassy, Jared Matthews as Camille de Rosillon, French attaché at the embassy, Arron Scott as Njegus, private secretary to the ambassador, Grant DeLong as Kromov, undersecretary at the embassy, Alexandre Hammoudi as Pritsch, undersecretary at the embassy, Craig Salstein as Leading Pontevedrian dancer, Hee Seo and Melanie Hamrick as Magda and Ludmilla, two Pontevedrian ladies, Craig Salstein as Maitre d’, Chez Maxim’s, Simone Messmer as An enraged client, Jacquelyn Reyes as Her friend, Isabella Boylston, Karin Ellis-Wentz, Nicole Graniero, Anne Milewski, Luciana Paris, and Christine Shevchenko as Can-Can ladies, and the Company.
I had never seen The Merry Widow as a ballet, only as an operetta. Sir Robert Helpmann and Ronald Hynd originally created this work in 1975 for The Australian Ballet, and it was first staged by ABT in 1997 with Susan Jaffe and Jose Manuel Carreño in the lead roles. The Franz Lehar score was kept in the balletic version, and it calls for rapturous, romantic waltzes. When I remember the operetta, I remember the emotionality and passion in the performance. Unfortunately, throughout the first half of the June 30 program and throughout most of the July 2 program, there was little or no palpable chemistry between the leads, Hanna and Danilo. During their first Act in the Pontevedrian Ballroom, when Hanna and Danilo (Ms. Kent and Mr. Carreño) re-unite, after many years, the passion is slowly introduced, and by time the second Act is played out, in Hanna’s Garden, the embrace and waltz ensue with ecstasy and exhilaration. However, in Act III, all is bliss, as the attempted duel between Danilo and Camille proves Danilo’s love, and the requisite “Merry Widow Waltz” transports the audience to the onstage euphoria.
On July 2, the ballet duo, Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky, married and dancing together for years, seemed flat in the emotional dimensions and distant in their chemistry, an odd observation. Perhaps it’s the Russian professionalism, the concentration on technique and persona, that drove this hauteur, but, by Act III, the waltzes inspired some flashy pas de deux, with elegant lifts and drama, and the audience was delighted. I was just hoping for seething seduction from a real life duo. That hope was mostly realized in the secondary roles of Valencienne and Camille de Rosillon, on both nights. On June 30, Xiomara Reyes was effusively theatrical, as the unhappy young wife of the bumbling Baron Mirko Zeta, Victor Barbee (always the pro and replete with nuanced vulnerability and humor). Her counterpart was Gennadi Saveliev, as Camille, who was more self-possessed and much taller than Ms. Reyes, but their ardent pas de deux was dazzling.
On July 2, Yuriko Kajiya was Valencienne, and Jared Matthews was Camille. Tonight, they were the hot story, as Ms. Kajiya finally let her personality explode with femininity and frivolity. I have never seen her style so smooth, so sensual, with full confidence in letting loose. Likewise, Mr. Matthews, usually cast in darker roles or in dynamic feats, was equally impassioned, an attentive partner, persuasive in his moment. Roman Zhurbin, as the Baron, was well cast as Valencienne’s husband, an awkward character with a wounded heart. Victor Barbee had seemed physically overpowering to the petite Xiomara Reyes on June 30. A strong supporting role is that of lead Pontevedrian dancer, and both Joseph Philips (less theatrical, more bravura) and Craig Salstein (quintessentially charismatic) executed the leaps and spins and Eastern European bravura motifs. Mr. Salstein doubled as the wigged Maitre d’, July 2, with Mikhail Ilyin in the vaudevillian role, June 30. Of the private and undersecretaries, both nights, Carlos Lopez and Craig Salstein caught my eye on June 30, and Arron Scott and Alexandre Hammoudi caught my eye on July 2. Simone Messmer and Jacquelyn Reyes were evocative of comedic silent films, as “an enraged client” and “her friend”.
Desmond Heeley, costume and set designer, is a certain star of this gorgeous production, and his long, white ermine-like coat with a huge black bow in back, worn by Hanna on her entrance to Chez Maxim’s, as well as the Can-Can ruffled skirts and the black-white gowns for the Ball, should be seen on exhibition for their splendid detail. Moreover, the Villa Garden and Chez Maxim’s are enormously elegant sets. At times, the lighting seemed a bit harsh, too bright for such rich design, but Michael Whitfield’s mood-shifting dimness enhanced onstage romanticism. Ronald Hynd’s choreography is mostly smooth ballroom styled, a nice contrast in the midst of the classical ballet season, and both the female Can-Can and male Pontevedrian ensemble dances were sensational. Maestros Wilkins and Barker kept the Ballet Orchestra festive and merry. After all, this is The Merry Widow.
Julie Kent and Jose Manuel Carreño in The Merry Widow
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone