The Merry Widow review: a song and dance extravaganza with serious star power - Sydney Morning Herald

independent

JANUARY 7 2018

Harriet Cunningham

 

 

Opera Australia has at last retired its ritzy, ragged La boheme (playing in the New Year every year since 2012), making way for another production to hit that sweet spot of aesthetic escapism and opulent glamour. The Merry Widow is a bull's-eye.

All the state opera companies across Australia have pooled their budgets to commission this no-expense-spared version of Franz Lehar's evergreen operetta, directed by Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon. The result is an opulently-costumed (Jennifer Irwin) song and dance extravaganza, with a handsome but pragmatic (ie fits into many houses) set (Michael Scott-Mitchell), superbly lit by Damien Cooper. Add to that some serious star power in the central roles and it's looking like a solid long-term investment.

But what's it like? The show, that is?

To be honest, it's as predictable as a lemon delicious pudding. And every bit as enjoyable.

The plot centres around the smouldering romance between Hanna, aka the merry widow, and Danilo, a bon viveur and old flame.

Danielle de Niese (Hanna) and Alexander Lewis (Danilo) bring white heat to the game of playing hard to get. De Niese glows with charisma, from her sybaritic showstopper Vilya, O Vilya to her dramatic entrance, an Erté picture come to life, in the final act. Her voice is everything that you hope for from an international star: creamy, supple, dazzling at the top. What comes as a bonus is her assured stagecraft, comic timing and nifty dance skills. This is a performance not to miss.

Opera Australia's new Merry Widow at the Sydney Opera House. Australian soprano Danielle de Neise. Photographed Wednesday 3rd January 2018. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH ARTS 170103

Lewis is no less alluring. From his drunken entrance in Act I he exudes rakish charm, an obstinate commitment to profligacy overlaying a heart of gold. Like De Niese, he sings, dances, acts, falls over, delivers knowing looks and timely punchlines with what seems like ease, and even manages to rock a national folk costume. Lewis, who takes the title role in OA's new production of The Nose later this year, is clearly an artist to watch.

Stacey Alleume and John Longmuir make a handsome couple, vocally and dramatically, in the romantic subplot, and the ensemble provides a suitably riotous array of character roles. The dance numbers are colourful interludes in the high-speed action. As for the direction, Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon choreograph individual expressions and big picture crowd scenes with loving detail, revealing a deep knowledge of the score.

The only sour notes in this delectable spread are the clumsy dick jokes, a wordless grope-the-girl tableau and the bizarre butt dance. Thankfully Hanna, empowered by her fortune, and De Niese, empowered by her dazzle, can call out this lazy, cliched humour for what it is – artless misogyny. With its lavish servings of laughs and gasps and delighted smiles, this classy widow can afford to drop the dirty old man guffaws.

 

The Merry Widow runs until February 3.

 

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To be honest, it's as predictable as a lemon delicious pudding. And every bit as enjoyable.

The plot centres around the smouldering romance between Hanna, aka the merry widow, and Danilo, a bon viveur and old flame.

Danielle de Niese (Hanna) and Alexander Lewis (Danilo) bring white heat to the game of playing hard to get. De Niese glows with charisma, from her sybaritic showstopper Vilya, O Vilya to her dramatic entrance, an Erté picture come to life, in the final act. Her voice is everything that you hope for from an international star: creamy, supple, dazzling at the top. What comes as a bonus is her assured stagecraft, comic timing and nifty dance skills. This is a performance not to miss.

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