By Lori Simmons Zelenko
Enchanting is truly the word for Franz Lehar’s frothy operetta The Merry Widow reinvented with Broadway wizardry by virtuoso director and choreographer Susan Stroman (The Producers, Oklahoma! And so many more Broadway favorites) making her Metropolitan Opera debut.
Stroman’s dance routines kick off the evening in splendid style from waltzing lovers to naughty Can Can dancers to fantastic folk dancers, the story moves along with joyous flair. The familiar score conducted by Sir Andrew Davis and Fabio Luisi is a sweet delight full of memorable melodies sung in English spurring the sophisticated cast into an effervescent evening of song and dance.
Impossible to resist the strains of The Merry Widow Waltz and other delightful tunes, the fresh, ebullient production lifts you into the bubbly, beautiful universe of Belle Époque Paris with sets by Julian Crouch and costumes by William Ivey Long, long time Stroman collaborators.
At the heart of the story set gloriously in 1900 Paris in this lush, lavish production is an attractive and oh so wealthy widow hailing from the Balkans now living in Paris. Face-to-face with past loves and wistful memories, she is armed with a large fortune to ease the pain of long ago missed romantic encounters. Shining star Renée Fleming, the Met’s brilliant Soprano, captivates all Paris as Hanna the Merry Widow herself glistening in the uber-glamorous art-nouveau setting complete with Can Can dancers at the famed Maxim’s, the restaurant/supper club immortalized in Gigi.
Mezzo-soprano diva Susan Graham takes over the title role as of April 24.
Broadway favorite, Kelli O’Hara (South Pacific) opened the production as Valencienne, the flirty wife of an overbearing Ambassador secretly in love with the suave Camile (originally sung by Alek Shrader but as of April, performed by Tenor Stephen Costello). Valencienne is now sung by Andriana Churchman.
The story centers on embassy officials from Hanna’s homeland, a Balkan land nearly bankrupt, who need the Merry Widow to save her country. Their plan? Steer her into marrying a fellow Balkan versus an amorous Parisian. Count Danilo (initially sung by Baritone Nathan Gunn now performed by Rod Gilfry) is drafted as the most appropriate candidate. Elegant yet endearing, Ms. Fleming exquisitely expresses her lingering feelings for Danilo and her puzzlement when it comes to facing the next chapter in her life.
But all’s well that ends well in this operetta. Magic moments prevail and romantic partners find their destiny. Happy endings result. Love saves the day as all find the right partner and dance.
The Merry Widow is in performance at The Metropolitan Opera at 7:30 p.m.
Friday April 24, Monday, April 27, Thursday, April 30 and Thursday, May 7. Tickets available at www.metopera.org.