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Monday, December 29, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Merry Widow

The Met warms up a new production of Lehár's operetta.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Renée Fleming as Hanna and Nathan Gunn as Danilo in Lehár's "The Merry Widow."
Susan Stroman's new production opens on December 31, 2014.
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
In this new production of the evergreen Lehár operetta, Renée Fleming is Hanna Glawari, a rich and glamorous widow who becomes the object of affection for every ardent young suitor in turn-of-the-century Paris. Nathan Gunn is her ardent suitor Danilo.

In the Peter Gelb era, the Met always opens new productions on New Year's Eve. Last year featured a new production of the Johann Strauss operetta Die Fledermaus. Panned by (some) critics and disliked by (most) purists, it played a long run to dwindling attendance. Undaunted, the Met tries its hand at operetta again, with a (slightly) updated version of The Merry Widow featuring a new translation of the original libretto by Fledermaus scribe Jeremy Sams.

This new production, directed by Susan Stroman (The Producers, Oklahoma!) is the company's first staging of the opera in ten years. The glitter of Paris will be created by designer Julian Crouch (The Enchanted Island, Satyagraha ) and costume designer William Ivey Long, whose credits include Cinderella and Hairspray.

Born in 1870, Franz Lehár found himself as the natural heir to Johann Strauss Jr. in Vienna, meeting the public's tremendous appetite for operetta with works like The Merry Widow, which captured the sentiment of Europe in 1905. Filled with nostalgia and great arias like the "Vilja-Lied", it has held the stage for well over a century as the composer's best known work.

The Merry Widow opens at the Met on New Year's Eve. A Met Live in HD broadcast is scheduled for Jan. 17. It returns in April with Susan Graham as Hanna, a role she last sang at the Met in 2004.

Recording Recommendation
The Merry Widow premiered at the very start of the recording industry and its piopularity ensured that it is one of the most frequentlky recorded operettas in the repertory. However most recordings trim the dialogue for purposes of time.

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Lovro von Matačić (EMI, 1962)
Hanna: Elizabeth Schwarzkopf
Valencienne: Hanny Steffak
Danilo: Eberhard Wächter
Camille Rosillon: Nicolai Gedda
Aside from the beauty of her voice and graceful stage presence, the soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf had the good f married to the head of a record company (Walter Legge of EMI) at the end of the mono era and the rise of stereo. So there are multiple recordings of the soprano as Hanna in the catalogue. This 1962 set, made nine years after her 1953 recording is considered to be one of the greatest operetta recordings of all time and remains a gold standard. It was last issued in EMI's Great Opera Recordings of the 20th Century series and is due to reappear on Warner Brothers Classics.

Tickets for The Merry Widow are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.

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