Chicago Opera Review: THE MERRY WIDOW (Lyric)

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by Barnaby Hughes on November 17, 2015

in Theater-Chicago

A MERRY WIDOW MAKES FOR A MERRY AUDIENCE

After the unbearable ugliness of Berg’s Wozzeck, Lyric Opera’s beautiful production of Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die Lustige Witwe) comes as a breath of fresh air. Originally staged last season at the Metropolitan Opera, this production features a brand new English translation by Jeremy Sams of Viktor Léon and Leo Stein’s German libretto. Sams does not introduce anachronisms or contemporary slang, nor does he water down the gendered stereotypes of the period.

15. THE MERRY WIDOW_LYR151111_362_c.Todd Rosenberg 14. THE MERRY WIDOW_IMG_4091_c.Andrew Cioffi

Much of the success of the Met’s production is reprised here, including Sir Andrew Davis as conductor, Renée Fleming in the title role, and Susan Stroman’s superb direction and choreography. Fleming does not disappoint as Hanna Glawari, a role that suits her fading voice to a tee. Her moving, lyrical rendition of Vilja’s song at the opening of Act II is one of the production’s highlights. Susan Stroman directs and choreographs each scene flawlessly, from the operetta’s intimate flirtations to its glamorous balls and nightlife.

Lyric Opera Chicago Merry Widow 11. THE MERRY WIDOW_LYR151111_648_c.Todd Rosenberg

Set in Belle Époque Paris, The Merry Widow centers on Hanna Glawari, Lehár’s eponymous heroine. Recently bereft, extremely rich, and looking for love, Madame Glawari is pursued by all of the city’s eligible bachelors. Worried that Hanna might marry a Frenchman, the Pontevedran ambassador Baron Mirko Zeta seeks to marry her to Count Danilo Danilovitsch. The baron’s goal is to keep the widow’s millions in Pontevedra, thereby propping up its precarious economy.

10. Renée Fleming_Thomas Hampson_THE MERRY WIDOW_LYR151111_544_c.Todd Rosenberg Lyric Opera Chicago Merry Widow

The production’s uniformly excellent cast boasts fine performances from its principals, actors, choir and dancers. Thomas Hampson is suitably rakish yet instantly likeable as the count; he and Fleming have real chemistry. As Valencienne, the baron’s wife, Heidi Stober might not have any arias to sing, but proves that her sparkling soprano can easily hold its own against Fleming’s star-power. Michael Spyres brings his sumptuous tenor to the role of Camille de Rosillon, Valencienne’s wooer. Actor Jeff Dumas’s Njegus heightens the operetta’s comedy with his droll delivery.

8. Michael Spyres_Heidi Stober_THE MERRY WIDOW_LYR151111_047_c.Todd Rosenberg Lyric Opera Chicago Merry Widow

Everything about this Merry Widow is designed to be aesthetically pleasing. The opening scene sets the tone. Every singer and dancer is clothed in evening dress, gowns for the ladies and tails for the gentlemen. There is red carpet, round sofas, and crystal chandeliers. And in the background, not only is there a splendid embassy interior, but behind that is a 3-D model of Paris crowned by Sacré Cœur. Set designer Julian Crouch aims for period opulence and achieves it fantastically. Lighting designer Paule Constable truly shines in Act II with simulated fireworks. Costume designer William Ivey Long gets rather more creative, too, clothing the cast in Pontevedran folk costume for Act II.

5. Thomas Hampson_THE MERRY WIDOW_LYR151111_278_c.Todd Rosenberg 4. Jonathan Johnson_Paul La Rosa_THE MERRY WIDOW_LYR151111_033_c.Todd Rosenberg

Endearingly entertaining and extravagantly fun, The Merry Widow packs plenty of variety into its three short acts. There is spoken dialogue and stately waltzes, folk dancing and sword fights, tender arias and infectious laughter. This is how operettas are meant to be staged. Thank you Lyric Opera!

2. THE MERRY WIDOW_IMG_4014_c.Andrew Cioffi Lyric Opera Chicago Merry Widow

Lyric Opera Chicago Merry Widowphotos by Todd Rosenberg and Andrew Cioffi

The Merry Widow
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive
ends on December 13, 2015
for tickets, call 312.827.5600 or visit Lyric Opera

for more info on Chicago Theater,
visit Theatre in Chicago

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