David Hobson as Danilo and Natalie Christie Peluso as Hanna.
The Merry Widow
By Franz Lehar
Book and lyrics by Victor Leon and Leo Stein
English book, lyrics and libretto by Justin Fleming
Director and choreographer Graeme Murphy
Conductor: Vanessa Scammell
Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Season: June 22-30. Sung in English plus surtitles. Duration: two hours 50 minutes with two intervals. Bookings: www.qpac.com.au or phone 136 246.
The Merry Widow just got a lot merrier thanks to some of Graeme Murphy’s magic. The feisty young lady, in her sequin-studded mourning gown – plus a fortune of £20 million - and aided by bottles of the best champagne added a refreshing sparkle to this popular operetta, which was first performed in 1905.
This tale of badly behaved spouses, seduction, true love and false is so elegantly dressed, finely sung, danced and acted with some show-stopping dance numbers and a fabulous art deco set that is brilliant lit, it’s hard to know where to start the praise.
The show is set in the tiny Balkan state of Pontevedro, which is bankrupt. The only hope of financial salvation lies in Hanna, a beautiful widow who inherited her husband’s fortune after just eight days of marriage.
Word of her fortune has quickly got around and every impoverished old general and minor royal are clamouring for her hand in marriage.
Hanna is not silly though and knows exactly what is going on. The Pontevedrian ambassador Baron Mirko Zeta is terrified that she might marry a foreigner because he wants to keep her money in his country.
He enlists the help of a embassy’s first secretary Count Danilo Danilovich, a delightfully decadent man about town, who wallows in pink champagne and showgirls from Maxim’s night club, to win her over. The problem is: he and Hanna have a history.
Before her marriage Hanna was penniless but loved by Count Danilo. But rather than marry the now rich Hanna he decides against her because “she is not the woman he knew”.
Natalie Christie Peluso is great as the bereaved Hanna Glavari and her partnership with David Hobson as Danilo was top class.
The last time I saw this show was back in 2010, when Jason Barry-Smith played Danilo. He is in this production too but in the role of the naïve old Baron who had no idea his wife Valencienne was getting ready for an affair with one of his mates, Camille de Rosillon
I enjoyed Barry-Smith as the naive old Baron. I was also impressed by Hugh parker who hilariously played the Baron’s secretary Njegus, a smooth Iago-like villain. It was a polished comic performance.
Of course there is a lot of philandering and two of the best at this were Katie Stenzel as cool blonde beauty Valencienne and Dale Rodgers as Camille. They sang a couple of happy duets and kept us all amused by playing innocent before the Baron.
One of the highlights of the 2010 production was the final act set in Maxim’s night club.
The Grisettes, the dancing girls from Maxim’s did a dance, a faux Can-Can. They did the same thing this time, but Graeme Murphy’s choreography made it even funnier, especially with Hanna singing in a throaty Marlene Dietrich voice. Mind you it was even funnier when the men, singing a song bemoaning the frustrations that women cause break into a high kick dance. It was once again the funniest Can-Can you’ll ever see and when these elderly, portly blokes linked arms and high kicked in true chorus girl fashion it was hysterical to watch.
The singing was a pleasure to hear whether solo, duets, or vocals from the amazing chorus. Opera Queensland presented a truly entertaining evening.