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Opera Australia's The Merry Widow - Review

Home > Sydney > Theatre Reviews | Performing Arts | Opera | Classical Music
by Fiona Anderson (subscribe)
A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
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A sparkling rendition of an operatic favourite
Opera Australia's production of The Merry Widow has opened in Melbourne to extended applause and multiple curtain calls.

Opera Australia's The Merry Widow - review
Danielle de Niese (centre) returns to her home town to take the lead of the merry widow

This popular and enduring operetta was clearly a hit with the audience - and it's easy to see why. Its appeal goes well beyond the welcome return of international opera singer Danielle de Niese to her hometown to debut with Opera Australia as 'the widow' - Hanna Glawari; there is much to commend this delightful production. It is light and fresh and bubbly, and would have wide appeal, even for those not into opera per se. Sung in English, with English surtitles, it is super easy to follow the story.

The Merry Widow premiered in Vienna in 1905. Based on a stage play - L'attaché d'ambassade (The Embassy Attaché) - the score was written by Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár.

The Merry Widow opens in the Embassy of Pontevedro, a Balkan state. With Pontevedro facing financial ruin, a plan is hatched to marry off rich widow Hanna Glawari to one of the fine men of Pontevedro, thus ensuring her fortune will stay within the state. There are many suitors quick to state their claim for her affections (and fortune), however, Hanna has eyes for just one man, Count Danilo Danilowitsch (Alexander Lewis). Danilo, meanwhile, has more worthy things on his mind than marriage, like supporting charities and helping the homeless. Oh, and hanging out at Maxim's Nightclub, where he can have company without commitment.

Meanwhile, Valencienne (Stacey Alleaume), the young wife of Baron Zeta, is only just resisting the charms of a young Frenchman, Camille de Rosillon (John Longmuir). Valencienne hatches a plot to marry off Camille to Hanna Glawari. Keen to force her beloved Danilo Danilowitsch to reveal his true feelings for her, Hanna goes along with the plan.

Resolution is reached, in the final act, set amidst the fun and frivolity of Maxim's.

A highlight of this performance is undoubtedly the delightful voice of Danielle de Niese, particularly in her sparkling rendition of Vilja. Her on-stage versatility is nowhere more apparent than when she dances a creditable can-can with the grisettes at Maxim's.

Opera Australia's The Merry Widow - review
Danielle de Niese (centre) shows her versatility, as she kicks up her heels with the best of them!

Alexander Lewis plays the role of Danilo Danilowitsch beautifully. The character is, frankly, a little annoying - you feel like giving him a good shake and telling him to get on with it! But that's the way it's scripted, perhaps in the tradition of good romances, and no reflection on Lewis' performance. When finally Danilowitsch has his moment to shine - in the familiar Love Unspoken - all the previous frustrations with his character are forgotten. Lewis executes this to perfection, in a goosebump-inducing moment.

Opera Australia's The Merry Widow - review
The leads: Danilo Danilowitsch (Alexander Lewis) and Hanna Glawari (Danielle de Niese)

The critical support roles of the coquettish Valencienne (Stacey Alleaume), her husband Baron Mirko Zeta (David Whitney) and Camille de Rosillon (John Longmuir) are impeccably played. I must mention too the role of Njegus, played by Benjamin Rasheed. While not, overall, a large role, it is pivotal to the story. Rasheed is outstanding in the role, and his transformation in Maxim's was amongst the show highlights for me.

The sets are amazing in this production. We move from a somewhat utilitarian embassy office, to a Monet-esque garden setting complete with summer house, to a nightclub with an initially concealed staircase. The stagecraft, use of the stage and choreography are first-rate, as are the costumes, particularly Hanna Glawari's beautiful flowing gowns.

Orchestra Victoria, led by conductor Vanessa Scammell, doesn't miss a beat, as it seamlessly takes us on a merry musical journey through operatic ballads, waltzes, polkas and can-cans.

I can't think of anything I didn't like about this performance. It's first rate and a thoroughly entertaining experience. Highly recommended for a great evening's entertainment.

The Merry Widow plays at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until Saturday 24th November, and at the Sydney Opera House from Tuesday 2nd January to Saturday 3rd February. Tickets start from $55 for adults in Melbourne, and from $46 in Sydney.

Click here for performance times and to purchase tickets online.

The running time for this show is around three hours, including two 20 minute intervals.

Images in this review are from the Opera Australia Facebook page.
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Why? A thoroughly entertaining evening with the high quality production values you'd expect of Opera Australia.
When: Melbourne: until 24th November; Sydney: 2nd January to 3rd February
Phone: Melbourne: (03) 9685 3700, Sydney: (02) 9318 8200
Where: Melbourne: State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne; Sydney: Sydney Opera House
Cost: Melbourne: adult tickets from $44; Sydney: adult tickets from $46
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