Given the current financial unrest in Europe, perennial favourite The Merry Widow is perhaps more topical than ever.
Newly widowed Hanna Glawari must marry a local Pontevedrian and keep her freshly inherited millions in the cash-strapped country. Count Danilo Danilovich is the obvious choice, but their troubled past may impede a happy union.
Opera Australia’s new staging, a co-production with England’s Opera North, is making its Melbourne premiere after opening in Sydney last year.
The gorgeous costumes are a sparkling delight, with the men’s military formal wear looking particularly impressive. The same cannot be said for the uninspired sets, which also suffer the indignity of being too small for the State Theatre stage, creating sightline problems during ensemble scenes.
Outstanding Australian soprano Amelia Farrugia is in gorgeous voice as Hanna, giving a particularly sensitive and delicate rendition of the beloved “Vilja Song.” David Hobson is a foppish Danilo, the role suiting his light tenor voice perfectly. While the pair’s stormier scenes are not all that convincing, their inevitable romance leads to a dreamy performance of the signature waltz tune “I Love You So.”
A usual feature of this classic operetta is the added colour and variety of the supporting characters. Michael Campbell’s direction for the Australian season has not found the full humour and interest of these characters.
Nicole Car and Henry Choo, both lovely singers, suffer particularly in this regard, with a distinct lack of chemistry in their romance.
Line flubs and drops into Australian accents are also not really excusable at this high level of performance.
Highly experienced bass John Bolton Wood stands out in a skillfully comic turn, and terrific young actor Nick Christo wins plenty of laughs with cleverly nuanced delivery and body language. These highlights hint at what the production could have achieved with more performers of this caliber.
The Opera Australia Chorus complement the central action extremely well, singing with precision and strength, and showing plenty of appropriate expression.
A clear success of the night is the superb performance of Lehar’s glorious score by Orchestra Victoria under the nimble baton of conductor Brian Castles-Onion.
Photos: Jeff Busby
This review was published in the Sunday Herald Sun on 20 May 2012.