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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Merry Widow

Susan Graham makes a welcome and timely return to the Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Susan Graham as Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera invites its attendees to have themselves a very merry...widow. The generally ebullient Susan Graham makes her one return to the Met this season in the role of Hanna Glawari, the title character of Lehar's The Merry Widow.

What is The Merry Widow?
This is Franz Lehar's beloved comedy, heard hear in a revival starring the utterly fabulous Susan Graham.

What's The Merry Widow about?
It's the story of Hanna Glawari, a gorgeous, glamorous and extremely rich widow who becomes the object of affection for every ardent young suitor in turn-of-the-century Paris. Eventually she settles on Mr. Right and everyone dances the night away.

Why should I go see The Merry Widow?
In a time when the world is hard and the days are short, operettas like this one bring much needed comic relief.

What's the music like? 
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.

Who's in it?
This revival brings together mezzo-soprano Susan Graham with tenor Paul Groves as her suitor Danilo. Veteran baritone Sir Thomas Allen adds to the comedy as Baron Zeta. Ward Stare conducts all the performances.

How's the production?
This 2015 show was originally directed by Susan Stroman (The Producers, Oklahoma!). It is sung in English with a new book by Met poet laureate Jeremy Says. It was the company's first staging of the opera in ten years. The glitter of Paris comes via designer Julian Crouch (The Enchanted Island, Satyagraha) and costume designer William Ivey Long, whose credits include Cinderella and Hairspray.

When does The Merry Widow open?
The opera returns to the Met repertory on Dec. 13.

Where do I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recordings do you recommend?
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.

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