Monday, 5 February 2018

Opera Australia The Merry Widow

This new , delightful production as directed by Graeme Murphy of Lehar’s The Merry Widow is lush, opulent and spectacular – a wonderful way for the Opera to mark the reopening of the newly refurbished Joan Sutherland auditorium. It has a witty new translation and is sung in English with surtitles.
It is still a very popular romantic story over a century since its premiere and has been translated into 25 languages in various productions world wide and has also inspired a couple of ballets ( the Australian Ballet version choreographed by  Ronald Hynd is glorious and returns to Sydney April/May ) .
The rather slight plot centres around the now bankrupt tiny European state of Pontevedro frantically trying to keep the newly wealthy widow Hannah Glawari and her money in town, by establishing her with a new amour. What could go wrong? Quite a bit really – particularly since she has previous history with the proposed candidate.
There is also the delicate situation of the two younger lovers Valencienne and Camille – will their affair flourish or is it doomed ? Stacey Alleume and John Longmuir make an impressive couple, dramatically and vocally . There are shades of Lady Windermere’s Fan throughout perhaps.
The production has been updated to the 1920’s  .Michael Scott-Mitchell’s sets are stunningly sumptuous .The first act  is a golden glittering geometric filigree of art deco panels , peacock motifs and black marble tiles. he second act (the garden party to celebrate the king’s birthday ) elegant with a Monet like background and including a ‘ little summerhouse ‘gazebo .And then there are the mirrors for Maxim’s in Act 3 not forgetting a huge red velvet staircase  Dazzling.   
Jennifer Irwin’s costumes are glorious, some stunning in Erte like style.( Hannah’s amazing dress in Act 3 for example) . And the incredible detail of the various military uniforms! In Act 2 the blue and white folk costumes were reminiscent perhaps of Delft ware .
Hannah the eponymous widow of the show was enchantingly played by Vilja stopped the show .     
Julie Lea Goodwin who was in magnificent sparkling form. She ranges from flirtatious to crestfallen among other things and her spellbinding wistfully romantic
Alexander Lewis as Danilo was dashingly dark and handsome and in fine glorious voice with his precise captivating clear lyrical tenor as well as being a magnificent actor .We see his various moods as he changes from drunken cynic to questioning lover .
There is great rapport between the two who have great fun in flirting in ‘Silly Silly Rider’ . 
If you know Murphy’s work you can pick tiny snippets of choreographic phrases from say his Nutcracker , Poppy and Scheherazade for example and in certain parts you could see Vernon’s part as Murphy’s muse – sections could have been written for her. Murphy also drew on a great variety of appropriate styles for this production including German and French cabaret and Balkan folk dance.
My only quibble was with the grisettes dance in Act3 which was at times perhaps rather vulgar.
David Whitney had fun as Baron Zita, and Benjamin Rasheed as Njegus was impressive. My only quibble was with the grisettes dance in Act3 which was at times perhaps rather vulgar.
In Act 2 the men’s song about The Science of Women was extremely sexist for modern contemporary tastes although very entertaining and performed with gusto.
This is a lavish opulent production gloriously sung and staged - an excellent way to introduce opera to new fans, and an aural and visual delight for those familiar with the genre.
Running time – allow 3 hours including 2 intervals
Opera Australia’s The Merry Widow runs at the Sydney Opera House 31 Dec 2017 – 3 Feb 2018

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