The Merry Widow review: a ‘snazzy, frothy tunefest’

In recent years Britain’s leading opera companies have sought to “broaden their audiences and expand their repertory”, said Nicholas Kenyon in The Daily Telegraph. We’ve had “Sweeney Todd” at the Royal Opera and Gilbert and Sullivan at English National Opera; Opera North was an early adopter with its RSC-linked “Show Boat” in 1990, and currently has “My Fair Lady” running at Leeds Playhouse. Now Glyndebourne has jumped on the bandwagon, with a staging of Franz Lehár’s “pseudo-opera” “The Merry Widow” (1905) directed by Cal McCrystal, the specialist in physical comedy whose stagings of H.M.S. Pinafore and Iolanthe were “runaway successes” at ENO. 

“Everything has been thrown at this snazzy, frothy tunefest,” said Jessica Duchen in The i Paper; and though the production is not perfect, it has “all the makings of a classic”. The new English-language adaptation is “occasionally wordy, but great fun”, and the design, which gives belle-époque operetta the Hollywood musical treatment, is just glorious. “Oh, the gowns! The hats!” The music is light, yes – but also magical. Lehár’s score, brilliantly played by the London Philharmonic under conductor John Wilson, “floats up silky, seductive and sophisticated, the textures transparent and the tempi spot-on, crowned by the ear-worm waltz”. 

The whole thing is staged with “great wit and style”, said Barry Millington in the Evening Standard – and there are “genuinely funny moments throughout”. There is lots to enjoy including some fine performances, said Tim Ashley in The Guardian. Danielle de Niese is “compelling” as Hanna Glawari, the widow; Germán Olvera is magnificently charismatic as her long-lost love. But though the evening is funny, the double entendres and sight gags come “at the expense of emotional power”. Such is the dedication to “hitting every funny bone” that this staging seems less Lehár’s operetta than McCrystal’s “high-octane comedy show”, said Richard Fairman in the FT. Still, the “audience loved it, which is possibly recommendation enough”.

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Glyndebourne, Lewes, East Sussex. Until 28 July

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