After the first act of Giles Havergal’s new production of The Merry Widow, the impression is of a handsome staging (Leslie Travers’ costumes and sets) full of poised and precise performances by a cast without a weak link. But the romance and the humour remain on a low flame, though the extended finale gives hope of more sustained delights.
In fact Franz Lehar and his lyricists have simply been taking care (maybe too much care) to set up the potentially complicated plot following the consequences of the arrival of impossibly rich widow, Hanna Glawari, at the Pontevedrian Embassy in Paris. The decidedly longer second act (in fact, Acts 2 and 3 of the original) is a different matter altogether, with a series of brilliant tableaux and what in a musical would be called production numbers.
Under Wyn Davies’ wily conducting the famous Waltz and “You’ll find me at Maxim’s” make their way insidiously into our consciousness; the septet in “praise” of women lurches into exhausted hilarity (perhaps the high point of a great evening for choreographer Stuart Hopps); and a uniformly excellent cast gleefully show off their party pieces.
Amy Freston’s elegant Valencienne is transformed into a high-kicking grisette; the down-to-earth glamour of Stephanie Corley’s Hanna and the insouciant charm of William Dazeley’s faintly disreputable Danilo finally combine in the great romance; Allan Clayton brings Tauber-ish tones to Camille as well as playing his part in possibly the most agile and athletic cast assembled by Opera North; Geoffrey Dolton’s disarmingly eccentric Baron Zeta and Richard Burkhard’s fastidious Kromov (with Njegus subsumed into the part) never put a foot wrong – and the Bogdanovitches and Pritschitches are cast from strength, from the Opera North chorus.