The Merry Widow

The Merry Widow
By Franz Lehar. Melbourne Opera. Director: Hugh Halliday. Musical Director: David Kram. Choreographer: Michele Forbes. Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, Mar 10 to 20; Wangaratta, April 8; Alexander Theatre, April 8; Canberra Theatre, May 14.

I have seen several productions of The Merry Widow over the years and many have been disappointing, using indifferent translations or directors being unsure of how to handle some long patches of orchestra interludes with the performers on stage waiting for their next uttering. Neither was the case this time. The translation was excellent, very funny and with many topical references – carbon trading made an appearance. And the effective direction and strong performances from the leads gave meaning to the awkward passages.

David Rogers-Smith’s easy personality and beautiful voice made him a natural for Danilo. His years of professional Music Theatre experience were obvious as he took over the stage. His timing was impeccable and the chemistry with his Widow very real.

He was well matched by Ali McGregor as the Widow. Having sung everything from opera to cabaret, she had an easy stage presence and a light bell-like high soprano. Lee Abrahmsen produced a richer, darker sound as Valencienne and worked well with tenor, Roy Best, who was in fine voice. This was a very strong set of principals.

Paul Biencourt and Simon Meadows sang well and were suitably over-the-top as St Brioche and Cascada, while Geoff Harris was very funny as Baron Zeta, though his timing let him down in the last act, when his reactions to changed circumstances were too fast for someone who was supposed to be that dumb. The gangling bass David Gould made the most of his comic moments as Njegus. Conductor David Kram arranged and re-inserted his solo from a different edition to allow him to have his moment of glory.

The small stage was well used, with steps leading down from a foyer at the back of the stage giving different levels. The dancers were cramped, but managed to avoid potential pitfalls. The lighting was excellent and the costumes lavish. The orchestra was well controlled by David Kram and never threatened to overwhelm the singers. This was a very enjoyable night at the theatre.

Graham Ford

Images: Top - Ali McGregor (Hanna) and David Rogers-Smith (Danilo). Lower - Lee Abrahmsen (Valencienne) and Roy Best (Camille).

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