The Merry Widow

Franz Lehar
Carl Rosa Opera Company
Churchill, Bromley, and touring

As nights tick toward the centenary of The Merry Widow's premier in Vienna on New Year's Eve 1905, Lehar's music and song is working its ageless magic at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, where a spirited Carl Rosa company is winning new friends for an old favourite.

Michael McCaffery's production, which opened at Bromley on 27 March, may not be the finest or most oppulent - there isn't even a staircase for the great star, personified here by a winsome nightingale in Jan Hartley - to descend in style. Yet all the colour and idle industry of Pontevedrian plotting are here. Danillo is once again upon his honour to save romance and his country's fortunes.

Yet if I didn't know McCaffery was an opera director who had worked on Wagner's Ring, I would be entitled to suspect it. For this Widow is sober rather than merry. Victor Spinetti's natural sense of comedy must be a coiled spring at the restraint imposed upon him here as the harassed Baron Zeta!.

Jonathon Tafler's Njegus is equally circumspect while both Daniel Hoadley as Danillo and Miss Hartley, for all their excellent singing, allow just the faintest impression that they've played it all before and must do so again. As for the leggy Grisettes, they're kept under lock and key until Act 3.

Jacqueline Varsey and David Curry are also in fine voice as Valencienne and de Rosillon, though the caution of the evening is seen again in the Baroness's less than hearty involvement in the Grisettes Chorus.

Hugh Durrant's designs are eye-catching without overlooking the dire straits of middle European economies, the ladies costumes being colourful, if inclined towards fancy-dress. But then Act 2 is a "national" celebration and the finale is, after all, the famous Maxime's.

A new book by Jeremy Sams, which certainly moves the story along, may, at the same time, be responsible for much of the prevailing sobriety. It even encounters moments of resort to some of the more familiar lines of past libretti, and arguably might do so with profit in the Women, Women septet.

As ever, the lovely Vilja-song is a triumph for Jan Hartley and the chorus, not even a touch of laryngitis or new words can stop a diva in full flow with this number!

However, Musical Director Wyn Davies has assembled a 17-strong orchestra worthy of the Carl Rosa name and he marshalls his forces with characteristic authority and no lack of joie. Once this, presumably, Welsh hywel communicates itself to the stage, everything will be on course for a truly "lustige" Widow.

"The Merry Widow" will be staged at the Grand Opera House, Belfast (6 - 10 April), Theatre Royal, Brighton (20 - 24 April) and at the New Wimbledon Theatre (27 April - 1 May)

Peter Lathan reviewed this production later in its tour at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole

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