The Merry Widow, currently on stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago is the perfect introduction to the operatic world for those who are unfamiliar with or intimidated by this art form. Sung in English with the words projected onto a screen, and including both dialogue and song, this very entertaining story about love with all its complications is as relevant today as it was when it premiered in 1905 in Vienna.
The story is lively and energetic with a quick pace. It is also very funny. You will find yourself frequently laughing, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly the two hours and 35 minutes pass.
Directed and choreographed by five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman, The Merry Widow stars Renée Fleming, internationally renowned soprano, as the beautiful, intelligent, witty, and down-to-earth but romantic Hanna Glawari. (Fleming appears in the starring role through December 3, then Nicole Cabell takes over the role Dec. 9-13.) Thomas Hampson stars alongside her as the dashing, charming, and elusive Count Danilo Danilovisch.
Set in Paris in 1900, the operetta opens with a ball at the Parisian embassy of the Balkan state of Pontevedro. The audience soon learns that Danilo and Hanna, both of whom are from Pontevedro but now reside in Paris, had been in love in their youth. However, Danilo’s family disapproved of Hanna’s station in life, and the lovers drifted apart, she to a marriage with an older, immensely wealthy man who died on their wedding night, and he to the life of a playboy who, when absolutely necessary, also fulfills his duties as First Secretary of the Pontevedrin embassy. The two former lovers are brought together again by a scheme designed to keep Hanna from marrying a Parisian and having her millions leave her native country of Pontevedro, whose financial survival greatly depends on her money staying in the country.
In a parallel romantic complication, Heidi Stober plays the conniving Valencienne, wife of Baron Mirko Zetz and would-be lover of Camille de Rosillon. Michael Spyres admirably plays the role of Valencienne’s lovelorn, frustrated, and confused admirer, and Patrick Carfizzi is quite convincing as Valencienne’s clueless husband.
Not to be overlooked, Jeff Dumas has a deliciously comedic turn as Njegus, the embassy secretary.
This is a show in which each ensemble member is as good as the other, which makes for a most enjoyable experience for the audience. Of course, if you’ve never had the opportunity to see Renée Fleming perform in person before, this would be the perfect opportunity to see one of the world’s great sopranos.
The music, by Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár, is a highlight of the evening, and Fleming’s solos are lovely, especially “Vilja, o Vilja,” the poignant -love song she sings during a garden party at Hannah’s mansion (although, at times, it is difficult to hear her soprano voice when she’s singing in the lower registers, and the orchestra overpowers her vocals).
The costumes, designed by William Ivey Long, are a visual delight, ranging from the beautiful and elegant ballroom gowns, to the folk attire at the garden party, to the vivacious and bold costumes of the cancan girls at Maxims.
The sets, designed by Julian Crouch, are sumptuous and a stunning portrayal of life among the wealthy and politically connected in early 1900’s Paris.
Although The Merry Widow runs through December 13, there are only six performances left, so don’t delay in getting your tickets, or the operetta will be gone, and you will have missed out on one very memorable and pleasurable experience. The remaining performances are Nov. 25and 28 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 3, 9, 11, and 13 at 2:00 p.m.
Lyric Opera of Chicago is located at 20 N. Wacker Drive (Wacker and Madison). Tickets can be purchased online www.lyricopera.org/widow.
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