Culture and Civilisations

A Widow without allure

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A Widow without allure

Review: The Merry Widow at London Coliseum 

Three Stars 

The much anticipated new production of Franz Lehár’s Merry Widow was sadly underwhelming. It lacked the snap, crackle and pop that one expects from his music. Only when young Estonian conductor Kristiina Poska had left the pit to join in the curtain calls and an energetic conductor (from the orchestra?) took over, did it finally show the pizzazz it had lacked.

This delightful Parisian comedy about a small Balkan State in danger of financial ruin was given plenty of laughs in a new production by Max Webster of the Young Vic, but fell short in other ways. The extensive dialogue makes it a perfect vehicle for the English National Opera (everything is presented in English) but the translation team of Richard Thomas (lyrics) and April De Angelis (spoken text) went overboard with the vernacular, particularly the s-word. The “s*** hits the fan” and “the fan hits the s***” elicited both laughs and groans, though of course the fan belonging to the ambassador’s wife Valencienne (superbly performed by Rhian Lois) is a key element in her husband’s confusion. Robustly portrayed by the excellent Andrew Shore, he must persuade the wealthy young widow Hanna Glawari to keep her money away from acquisitive foreigners by marrying a fellow countryman, and the only really adequate candidate is Count Danilo, a charmer and habitué of the nightclub Maxim’s. Once in love with Hanna, he absolutely won’t degrade himself by marrying for money, so the match is off … until a twist in the tail at the end.

Nathan Gunn made a suavely convincing Danilo, a role he has also performed at the Met in New York, his true emotions hidden behind nonchalant worldliness, but the usually excellent Sarah Tynan as Hanna seemed miscast. Vocally lightweight, and exhibiting tartiness rather than stylish allure, her important Vilja song with its plaintive introspection came over as dull. When the two of them dance together the music should have more sway and emotion to it, and although the conductor works largely at the Komische Oper Berlin, a house having half the capacity of the Coliseum, she should have been able to adapt and to give the music far more brio.

Other roles were delivered with panache, notably the speaking part of Njegus in which Gerard Carey showed fine comic timing, along with Robert Murray as Valencienne’s lover and Nicholas Lester and Jamie MacDougall as would-be suitors for Hanna – but there is something wrong when Valencienne exhibits more style and presence than the widow herself. The production did its best, with the male chorus on the mystery of women, sung by seven principals, getting spontaneous applause as the music rattled along, but there should have been more moments like that.

All in all, a disappointment, though costumes, sets and lighting were all good, and I look forward to a revival with a different conductor and leading lady.

Continues on various dates until April — details here.

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