The Met Streams Lehar’s The Merry Widow on Thursday

By Lynne Gray, PhD

These operas can be found at www.metopera.org from 4:30 PM Reno time for 23 hours

Thursday, April 23
Lehar’s The Merry Widow
~ 2Hrs and 28Mins
Starring Renée Fleming, Kelli O’Hara, Alek Shrader and Nathan Gunn, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. From January 17, 2015.

Ah… this enchanting operetta is ALL fun! Each act features a gala new party in a different location! Renée Fleming is effervescent as Hanna Glawari, the fabulously wealthy widow of the title in Lehár’s most beloved work. Set in gay Paris at the turn of the century, and seen in a wonderful new production directed and choreographed by Broadway’s Susan Stroman, Nathan Gunn plays the dashing Count Danilo, Hanna’s former flame, who is now assigned to woo her in order to keep her fortune in the home country of Pontevedro. Kelli O’Hara, who is equally adept on Broadway and in the opera house, sings the marvelous Valencienne, a flirtatious young wife, married to the venerable Pontevedrin ambassador to Paris, Baron Zeta, played by the great Thomas Allen. Alek Shrader is Valenciennes’s ardent suitor, Camille, the Count de Rosillon. Andrew Davis conducts this totally hummable score, jam packed with the enchanting Lehár waltzes most of us have loved our whole lives.

The First Act’s party is a gala ball in Paris given by the Pontevedrin ambassador, Baron Mirko Zeta, in honor of the birthday of their principality’s sovereign, the Grand Duke, and also because of the arrival in Paris of the wealthy young widow, Hanna Glawari. As it turns out, Pontevedro is worse than flat broke and the Ambassador is courting the favor of French nobles, as well as having been tasked by the Grand Duke with the job of making sure that no Parisian suitors steal Hanna’s heart (and her money) – both must stay in Pontevedro.

In this crucial diplomatic mission, the Ambassador enlists the aid of his wife, Valencienne, as well as that of his secret weapon, the dashing (dare I say womanizing) Count Danilo Danilovitsch. We soon learn the secret that the Count and Hanna were once very much in love, but his family forbade him from marrying a commoner. On the rebound, she married the wealthiest man in Pontevedro, who conveniently died on their wedding night, leaving her with his vast fortune. She has come to Paris to nurse her grief and begin again. Predictably, when she enters the embassy, she is deluged with attention from the many young fortune-hunting Frenchmen in attendance. Danilo has been pulled away from his usual evening’s entertainment with the frisky Grisettes at Maxim’s, sobered up and pushed on to the dance floor to divert the widow’s attention from her army of French suitors.

Danilo has told the ambassador that he absolutely refuses to marry Hanna for her money, but that he will try to keep her Parisian pursuers at bay. Meanwhile, Valencienne is (more or less) trying to be a “respectable wife” but becomes more and more sorely tempted by the fervent advances of the French attaché to the embassy, Count Camille de Rosillon, who writes “I love you” on her fan. Unfortunately, she promptly misplaces the fan – now with the very incriminating message – and the complications continue to cascade. Valencienne convinces Camille to pursue Hanna in order to deflect suspicion from them.

The Second Act’s festivities are at Hanna’s villa where everyone dresses in Pontevedrin clothing for a garden party that is still celebrating the Grand Duke’s birthday, but this time in Pontevedrin, rather than Parisian, style. Hanna entertains her guests by singing an old Pontevedrin song: “Es lebt’ eine Vilja, ein Waldmägdelein” (“There lived a Vilja, a maid of the woods”) which, after the Merry Widow Waltz, is certainly the most famous song from this work. Meanwhile, Baron Zeta fears that Camille (who is now publicly pursuing Hanna as a cover for his pursuit of the Baron’s wife, Valencienne) will spoil his plan for Hanna to marry a Pontevedrin. As the private intrigues and more public misunderstandings continue to mount, the men gather to commiserate with each other in the hysterical male chorus line song – “You can read about women in school…. but they’ll still make you look like a fool…”

By the Third Act party, things are really in quite a mess for everyone, and instead of only Danilo going off to Maxim’s to drown his sorrows, the entire company ends up there and we are treated to a rousing French cabaret Can-Can before all of the misunderstandings finally begin to unwind. Valencienne is absolved when she shows the Baron the other side of her fan – on which has been written “I am a respectable wife!”; Danilo, now thinking that Hanna will lose all her money if she remarries, is finally willing to admit that he loves her; the money, however, will stay safely in Pontevedro as Hanna confesses that she will only lose all of her money because it will go to her husband. And they lived happily (if perhaps not faithfully) ever after!

Picture Credits

1. Renée Fleming as Hanna, at the Embassy Ball in Lehár’s “The Merry Widow” at the Met. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

2.  Renée Fleming as Hanna, Kelli O’Hara as Valencienne, and Alek Shrader as Camille in Lehár’s “The Merry Widow” at the Met. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

3. Kelli O’Hara as Valencienne and Alek Shrader as Camille in Lehár’s “The Merry Widow” at the Met. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

4. Kelli O’Hara as a “Grisette” at Maxim’s in Lehár’s “The Merry Widow” at the Met. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

5. Renée Fleming as Hanna and Nathan Gunn as Danilo in Lehár’s “The Merry Widow” at the Met. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

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