"Great Performances" The Merry Widow (TV Episode 2002) Poster

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Sparkles like bubbles on top of a champagne glass
TheLittleSongbird19 August 2012
Die Lustige Witwe(or The Merry Widow) is one of the greatest operettas ever, funny, charming and with gorgeous music. This 2001 San Francisco production, sung in English, is an absolute delight, very like the Zurich performance and the 1934 film. Visually, it is simply gorgeous with the ball-gowns worn by the ladies lush, the men looking dapper in their suits and the settings as opulent as you'd expect. The staging is simple, but not overly-so, and light-hearted in tone, making the comedic moments for example subtle and funny all at once. The playful and somewhat hostile chemistry between Anna and Danillo is convincing and beautifully played. The third act ballet is elaborate in its choreography, and very charmingly danced as well as technically accomplished. The video directing is expertly, sympathetic to the singers and stage direction and never irritating or obtrusive. The camera shots don't look static or too much of one technique.

The production is even better on a musical level. The orchestral playing as you'd expect with Lehar's score is stylish in a way that makes your heart dance, and the more waltz like parts are played with real lushness that you are swept away really to a different world. The conducting is efficient and never too broad or plodding. The chorus are well balanced vocally and are thankfully not static on stage. The principal singing is faultless. Yvonne Kenny looks glamorous and sings absolutely beautifully as Anna. Her playfulness and hostility is a big part of why the chemistry between her and Bo Skovhus is as convincing as it is. Skovhus displays a tall, handsome presence and a warm, ringing voice, and he also proves that he can portray Danillo as a convincing romantic lover and with a gift for comedy. Angelika Kirchschlager is bewitching both in looks and voice. A strikingly beautiful woman with a rich and sensitive when needed voice, her Valencienne is appealingly flirtatious and instantly likable. Elijah Chester's additional rendition of Quite Parisian is enough to bring the house down.

All in all, a wonderful sparkling performance. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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One of the greatest of Viennese operettas in an excellent presentation
Terrell-422 February 2008
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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