There is definitely fun to be had in the Met’s new production of Franz Lehar’s operetta The Merry Widow, directed and choreographed by Broadway stalwart Susan Stroman. While this is neither her best work, nor the best production of The Merry Widow ever, it has enough virtues to make it a real pleasure, if not quite the lush, effervescent fun-fest it should be.
It’s a surprise that Julian Crouch’s sets are a bit problematic. Crouch is a very accomplished designer as well as a director in his own right. And, indeed, his set for The Enchanted Island at the Met had all kinds of nooks and crannies that helped make sense of that pastiche. Also, his Act III set for this opera, which represents the legendary Paris restaurant Maxim’s, is an eye-popping delight, and the way it emerges is a real coup de theatre.
Why then are his designs for the first two acts so static? They’re impressive, even pretty, but tend to dwarf the action of this basically intimate operetta about a woman whose riches might save her Balkan homeland. Why, too, does Paule Constable’s lighting not narrow its focus for two person scenes, something she did so masterfully for Curious Incident on Broadway?
All this makes the show’s natural fizz go a bit flat. None of this, though, is in any way the fault of Merry Widow‘s thoroughly excellent cast. Diva extraordinaire Renée Fleming plays Hanna Glawari, the title role, a peasant’s daughter which married a ridiculously wealthy man not long before his death. She positively floats in a slick and lustrous performance, bewitchingly exquisite in its musicality. Her rendition of the “Vilja Song” is particularly lovely, sung in warm, hushed tones that beautifully underline the aria’s rueful wistfulness.
Kelli O’Hara is a marvelous Valencienne, a baron’s wife who longs for illicit excitement. O’Hara is particularly good in the third act, when Valencienne cuts loose and dances with the showgirls at Maxim’s. Stroman does her best work in this act – in fact her work throughout is witty and clever, which makes the fact that it’s generally framed poorly all the more frustrating. Recommended, but not as good as hoped.
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To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.