The Merry Widow has certainly stood the test of time. Premiering in 1905, it really is a silly old farce, but one that, musically, has charm in abundance and some very entertaining characters.

Set in the impoverished but fictional country of Pontevedro, Stephanie Corley plays the title character who, having inherited a fortune, holds the economic fortunes of the country in her hands. She must not marry a foreigner, otherwise the country will become bankrupt! In typical operatic fashion there are several suitors who all seem to be in love with several other people and the resolution of these romantic entanglements leads the story to its lovely conclusion.

At least, that what I think happens. Unfortunately, and this is highly unusual for Opera North, the diction of both singing and spoken word of the entire cast especially the chorus is so poor and the projection so restrained that the plot is sadly lost. It is a shame because the leading performers mostly give enthusiastic physical performances but what is the point if the audience have to spend the evening straining to hear?

On the plus side Wyn Davies keeps control over the excellent Orchestra of Opera North making the most of the pleasing score and at no point did I feel that the cast were being overpowered. If anything I suspect that had the cast stepped up their game, the orchestra could have let rip a little more.

From production point of view, this is typically good Opera North fare. Leslie Travers’ warm and inviting set creates just the right ambience and his costume designs are sumptuous. There is also some energetic choreography courtesy of Tim Claydon brought to life by a slick sextet of dancers.

There is enough in the production to make this an enjoyable enough evening, but overall it falls far short of the high standards expected from Opera North.

- Malcolm Wallace