One of the greatest of Viennese operettas in an excellent presentation
Count Danilo Danilovitch has a simple philosophy, "Make love often; become engaged seldom; and marry never." When Anna Glawari, now a rich widow, comes back into his life Danilo will be forced to rethink things. This wonderful Franz Lehar piece was one of the last great examples of Viennese operetta. It was produced in 1905; nine years later the world came to an end for this kind of belle époque sophistication.
The story is as simple as the music is glorious. Danilo and Anna had been lovers once. He was of Pontenegrian nobility and she was a commoner. His uncle forbad a marriage. Danilo now has become a prized diplomat at his country's embassy in Paris, as well as a gifted lecher and drunkard. Anna simply married an older and very rich man who had the courtesy to die shortly afterwards. Now, Anna has come to Paris and every impoverished noble and rake, often the same thing, are eager to woo her for her money. Pontenegro, however, has fallen on hard economic times. The country is almost bankrupt. So the Pontenegrian ambassador has ordered Danilo to woo and wed Anna so that her riches can be deposited with the state. Got that? Now forget it. The only thing we need to know is that Danilo, without money, will not marry Anna for hers...and that they still love each other. And that we are in Paris.
This 2001 production by the San Francisco Opera is as sumptuous and light as a whipped cream meringue. The sets are beautiful. The costumes are gorgeous, all white-ties-and-tails for the men and lush ball gowns for the women. The actors are attractive and, most importantly, they can sing. Yvonne Kenny who plays Anna is not simply attractive, she can manage to look lovely, lovingly and a bit skeptical all at the same time. Bo Skovhus who plays Danilo is a tall, handsome Dane with a good deal of stage presence. The operetta was staged by Lofti Mansouri with a light touch and appropriate stage business. The Merry Widow is effervescent, worldly and gay. It gives us a time when fidelity was considered as old- fashioned as dumplings, when husbands had their mistresses and wives their paramours, and they all went to Maxim's. Lehar's greatest score brings all this together with music that is deeply romantic and as bubbly as an innocent, or not to innocent, first romance. Like so many operas and operettas which were written for a different type of audience in a different kind of world, the story-line and dialogue cannot always disguise the sound of old, creaking joints. Two things make this aging irrelevant to our pleasure.
First, of course, is Lehar's music. We may not always know the titles, but the melodies, for example, to "I'm Off to Chez Maxim's," "Vilia," "Girls, Girls, Girls" and the Merry Widow waltz are almost instantly recognizable more than a hundred years after they were first heard. Second, is the person of Anna Glawari. She is a woman of the world, wise in the ways of men, love and finance. At a time when married women had few rights and few resources they could call their own, Anna knows what she's doing. She loves Danilo and knows he loves her. She also recognizes his pride that will not permit him to marry for money, or even the appearance of this. Anna's solution is clever, loving and practical. She let's Danilo discover a new philosophy, "Make love often; become engaged seldom; and marry once for life and forever."
You'd have to have a pocketful of pebbles instead of a heart not to at least enjoy Lehar's score. Romantic? Well, so's sipping Tokay at Maxim's with the woman you love...I mean your wife...I mean...well, you know what I mean.
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