Franz Lehar’s Viennese Operetta, The Merry Widow, is highfalutin fun

Robyn Beyleveldt, Contributor

For all of last week, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre showed Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow, a fun and fancy excursion for anyone wanting to sample the opera lifestyle. As a first-time opera attendee, I had no preconceived expectations or standards, which is why The Merry Widow was my ideal introduction to similar highfalutin functions. As an operetta, it transitions between grandiose musical numbers and interludes of dialogue. Surrounding scandal, extravagance, politics, financial crises and lovers in denial, The Merry Widow covers endearing themes in three acts, with witty humour and romance littered throughout. 

The story follows the exploits of the Pontevedrian ambassador in Paris trying to prevent his small country from going bankrupt. The ambassador, Baron Zeta, hosts a ball to raise money for the embassy. His real agenda, however, is to secure the fortune of wealthy widow Hanna Glawari so he can end his country’s financial crisis. He schemes to marry off the womanizing Count Danilo Danilovitch to the merry widow. The count and the widow, upon meeting, realize that they had been engaged years before but were never married due to their class divide. Hanna’s poor family was considered unfit to marry into Danilo’s aristocratic one. Thus, Danilo struggles with wanting to help his country but not wanting to appear a gold digger by asking for Hanna’s hand again in light of her new wealth. So begins the will-they-won’t-they romance central to the story. Meanwhile, the Baron’s own wife and a mysterious Frenchman are flirting with hilarious results. 

There is a lot to like. The Merry Widow’s amusing characters and their relationships make the story endearing. The sets are equally as colourful as the characters within them. The three acts are set in the most lavish sounding rooms imaginable: the foreign embassy ballroom, the rich widow’s villa and a French salon complete with Can Can dancers. The songs are all in German, accompanied by English subtitles above the stage, while the dialogue is in English. The performers are incredibly talented singers, actors and dancers. In the first act, they waltz throughout the ballroom in monochrome suits and gowns. At the rich widow’s villa, they traverse the stage in feathered hats and scarves. In the final act, they perform a bona fide Can Can dance which is the undeniable highlight of the show. So take any chance you get to visit the opera sometime soon. La Bohème is playing in February.

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