Franz Lehár’s bon-bon  was telecast in HD today by The Metropolitan Opera. Five time Tony Award winning director and choreographer Susan Stroman along with a mostly outstanding cast gave Lehár’s 1905 operetta a spirited reading. The sets and costumes which were period appropriate were bright and appealing. Even the curtain calls were brilliantly staged. The result was a mounting that was limited by The Merry Widow itself. It’s a dated work that can’t stand comparison with the best in it genre, ie the operettas of Offenbach and Johann Strauss Jr. While there are a few lovely pieces in it, most the operetta is dull stuff. The plot is silly and there are long stretches of dialogue.

The story, which is best ignored, is about a rich Balkan widow in Paris who if she marries a non-citizen of her imaginary country will cause that country to go bankrupt. Don’t look any closer. Jeremy Sams English version is very clever and has many creative and imaginative rhymes, but one doesn’t go to the Met to hear dialogue.

Renée Fleming was the wealthy widow, Hanna Glawari. This is a good part fro a diva near the end of her career. Not surprisingly, Fleming sang beautifully, interpolating an aria from Lehár’s Paganini into the second act. Her portrayal was rather sedate especially when compared to the animated acting of most of the other principals.

Broadway actress Kelli O’Hara made her Met debut in this run of the operetta as Valencienne. She provided much of the best singing and acting of this performance. O’Hara was the highlight of the show. In the last act, set in Chez Maxim’s, she danced with much younger can-can dancers and easily kept up with them. In general, the dancing outstripped the singing. This act had the most action and imagination of the three. Some of the dancers were lowered to the stage by cables which made a great effect.

Super veteran Thomas Allen was Baron Zeta the elderly cuckolded husband of Valencienne. He sang well and acted the deceived husband with comic seriousness.

Baritone Nathan Gunn was Danilo. His singing though effective, sounded a bit constricted. He had the same problem as did Fleming. He looked like an opera singer trying to do a dated Broadway show. I don’t want to push this criticism too far; he gave an good performance.

Comedian Carson Elrod played Njegus, the Baron’s aid as a gay flibberty-gibbet. He was mostly funny.

Tenor Alek Shrader continues to have problems with his upper range. The part of Camille de Rosillon (Valencienne’s lover) is not a difficult one, yet he was clearly forcing his notes above the staff. He is in real need of a vocal make over.

Andrew Davis, who is the music director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, conducted a tepid reading from an orchestra not fully comfortable with the Broadway style show that Ms Stroman presented. The mix of show and opera was a suspension rather than a solution. Perhaps the Met should stay away from works like The Merry Widow or perhaps the operetta’s time has passed.

Incidentally, the performers were miked. You could see Allen’s taped to the left side of his head. I suppose the large amount of spoken dialogue required this technique. I don’t know if the microphones were on during the singing.

In summary, the afternoon was pleasant. But once should be enough for any but the most devoted fan of Viennese operetta. If the Met wants to revisit this style perhaps they should look to Franz von Suppé

 

 

 

The Merry Widow
Franz Lehár-Viktor Léon/L. Leo Stein

Hanna Glawari………..Renée Fleming
Valencienne………….Kelli O’Hara
Count Danilovitch…….Nathan Gunn
Camille de Rosillon…..Alek Shrader
Baron Zeta…………..Thomas Allen
Vicomte Cascada………Jeff Mattsey
Raoul de St. Brioche….Alexander Lewis
Njegus………………Carson Elrod
Sylviane…………….Emalie Savoy
Olga………………..Wallis Giunta
Praskowia……………Margaret Lattimore
Kromow………………Daniel Mobbs
Bogdanovitch…………Mark Schowalter
Pritschitsch…………Gary Simpson
Woman……………….Andrea Coleman
Maitre D’……………Jason Simon
Lolo………………..Synthia Link
Dodo………………..Alison Mixon
Jou-Jou……………..Emily Pynenburg
Frou-Frou……………Leah Hofmann
Clo-Clo……………..Jenny Laroche
Margot………………Catherine Hamilton

Conductor……………Andrew Davis

Production…………..Susan Stroman
Set Designer…………Julian Crouch
Costume Designer……..William Ivey Long
Lighting designer…….Paul Constable
Sound Designer……….Mark Grey
Choreographer………..Susan Stroman
English Version………Jeremy Sams
TV Director………….Gary Halvorson