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Vien, women and song

by Suzanne Yanko

We’ve done the research, and can confidently report that the place for celebrating the New Year for 2018 is … Sydney! We’re not just talking about the world-famous fireworks in their matchless harbour setting, we’re talking about a night for opera-lovers, with a Gala and a show that starts its run tonight so you can postpone the big celebrations for the transition to a new year full of hope and possibilities. Which is close to the theme of the opera that starts its Sydney season tonight … The Merry Widow, starring Danielle De Niese. So what that you’ve seen this in Melbourne; this is without doubt the perfect opera to see in the New Year. Alternatively, tonight only, there’s always the Opera Australia Gala at the same time and venue: The Sydney Opera House.

As your best bet is to join the opera tonight (or soon) in the newly renovated Joan Sutherland Theatre, (unfortunately dubbed the “Joan Sullivan” by some mainstream media). here’s a teaser, an extract from our recent story about this production, by reviewer Jon Jackson.

Published: 18th November, 2017
Author: Jon Jackson
Opera Australia’s current production of The Merry Widow is a delightful confection, full of wonderful music, singing, dancing and unadulterated fantasy. Just as it was originally intended, Franz Lehar’s most enduring composition is back to fill our senses with romance and a touch of the erotic. From the first opening of the curtain, the audience is treated to a vision of Art Deco opulence as the scene opens at a grand ball in Paris. It’s the Embassy of the impoverished Balkan principality of Pontevedro. The country faces bankruptcy, but the Ambassador, Baron Mirko Zeta holds out hope that the wealthy young and beautiful widow Hanna Glawari will marry a Pontevedrin man and keep her 20 million francs in the country.

The role of Hanna is magnificently sung, acted and danced by soprano Danielle de Niese. She is perfect as the self-made woman of style and elegance. Her rich voice is perfect for this role and she sang the part with panache and confidence, and her onstage chemistry with Alexander Lewis (Danilo) was entirely convincing and their duets were just a delight.

Director Graeme Murphy has created a showpiece of Olympic proportions. There is a veritable sea of gold braid, gold ropes and epaulets that decorate the magnificent uniforms, with Jennifer Irwin’s sumptuous period costumes transporting us to the dream-like world of the European aristocracy before it was obliterated by war. In this incarnation, we see the hedonistic world of Viennese culture before it is consigned to history by World War 2. The sets designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell are just breathtaking and perfectly portray the majesty of the Embassy ballroom, Hanna’s magnificent garden, complete with a wrought iron summer house and a back drop reminiscent of Monet’s “Water Lilies”. The moving staircase and the set for Maxim’s in the final act are real show stoppers. There’s almost sensory overload with so much going on at once.

Special mention should go to the dancers in this production. Although they were given no program credit, they added so much to this extravaganza and deserve some recognition. .
Originally staged in 1905, “The Widow” has gone on to outlast almost every other operetta from that golden age. A precursor to today’s style of music theatre, this piece has been reworked and re-jigged countless times since then and in more than 25 languages other than the original German. This production is the latest chapter in the eternal renewal of Lehar’s crown jewel.

This is a new English translation by Justin Fleming which brings the piece alive to a new generation while retaining the heart of the original for the nostalgic among us. The singers also wear microphones, which made the dialogue and smaller moments much easier to follow and I suppose has become necessary if light opera is to keep pace with the expectations of audiences accustomed to other amplified music theatre performances. This is a most enjoyable production which is sure to delight any audience; from the well-seasoned to the first-timers.

Read the full review.

Details on the Opera Australia site.

From the editor, reviewers and supporters of Classic Melbourne, a very happy New Year! Stay with us, more reviews and stories and some surprises are planned for 2018!

Thank you for your interest in us, and the musicians we serve.

Suzanne Yanko, Editor


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