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    Enchanting Merry Widow

    The Metropolitan Opera's lavish new production of Franz Lehar's enduring operetta The Merry Widow is a light comedy with a rich, tuneful score and plenty of opportunities for dancing, combining the best of Broadway and opera on one of the grandest opera stages in the world.

    It forms part of the current season of the Met: Live in HD series screened in South Africa, and will be screened from 21 February for a limited season at Cinema Nouveau and select Ster-Kinekor cinemas countrywide.

    Renée Fleming stars as the beguiling femme fatale, Hanna, who captivates all of Paris. The story, which centres on an attractive widow from a Balkan land, now living in Paris, whose husband left her a fortune, touches on wistful emotions under the direction and choreography of Susan Stroman (The Producers, Oklahoma!, Contact), who has won five Tony Awards and is also making her Met debut.

    Enchanting Merry Widow

    Sprightly dancing

    Enlivened by sprightly dancing, this colourful production is mostly faithful to the style of the piece.

    Jeremy Sams prepared an English translation of the original German text and the new dialogue basically follows the storyline without straining to be up to date or lamely comic. To make the spoken words audible, the singers wear body microphones throughout, though only the dialogue is amplified, not the singing.

    Hanna is a good role for Renee Fleming and conveys not only Hanna's elegance and glamour, but also her lingering feelings for Danilo and her confusion about what to do next in her life. She gives an affecting account of Vilja, O Vilja, the forlorn love song that Hanna sings at the garden party she hosts at her mansion.

    Nathan Gunn brings his suave presence and solid voice to Danilo, who has never really got over Hanna. The most magical moment comes in Act II, when Hanna and Danilo dance to the strands of the beguiling Merry Widow waltz from the orchestra and soon begin humming along.

    Alek Shrader and Kelli O'Hara are great as the sweet young lovers in the sub-plot and, at 70, the veteran baritone Thomas Allen can still command a stage. He turns in a gruffly comic performance as Baron Mirko Zeta, the Pontevedrin envoy in Paris, clueless about his wife's (Valencienne) infatuation with Camille. Carson Elrod as his camp sidekick Njegus provided mildly amusing comic turns.

    Stroman and her design team of Julian Crouch (Satyagraha, The Enchanted Island) and costume designer William Ivey Long (Cinderella, Grey Gardens, Hairspray) have created an art nouveau setting that climaxes with singing and dancing grisettes at the legendary Maxim's.

    Spectacular onstage scene change

    There is a spectacular onstage scene change when Hanna's garden party morphs into Maxim's, alive with revelling customers and a roster of dancing grisettes. It's not surprising that Stroman's best work involves the dance routines, not just a teasing cancan at Maxim's, but the hardy hoofing in a Balkan folk dance at Hanna's party.

    Of note, Davis has composed a new overture comprising orchestral materials by Lehar to make a medley of Merry Widow hit tunes. And during the party scene, offstage piano music taken from the ballet adaptation of the work is heard during some exchanges of dialogue.

    Opera lovers can indulge in the Met Opera's intriguing double bill of Tchaikovsky's enchanting fairy tale Iolanta and Bartóks erotic psychological thriller Bluebeard's Castle (from 21 March), with soprano Anna Netrebko as the beautiful blind girl who experiences love for the first time in Iolanta, while Nadja Michael is the unwitting victim of the diabolical Bluebeard, played by Mikhail Petrenko. Both operas are directed by Mariusz Trelinski and conducted by Valery Gergiev.

    From 11 April bel canto superstars Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez join forces for La Donna del Lago, Rossini showcase of vocal virtuosity, with DiDonato as the Lady Of The Lake of the title, and Flórez is the king who relentlessly pursues her, their vocal fireworks embellishing the romantic plot in this Met premiere production conducted by Michele Mariotti.

    Enchanting Merry Widow

    Double bill

    Opera's most enduring tragic double bill Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci returns on 23 May in an evocative new production from Sir David McVicar, who sets the action across two time periods, but in the same Sicilian village. Marcelo Álvarez rises to the challenge of playing the dual tenor roles of Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana and Canio in Pagliacci. Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi is on the podium. The operas are screened at Cinema Nouveau and selected cinemas nationwide.

    For booking information on The Met: Live in HD season, go to www.cinemanouveau.co.za or sterkinekor.mobi. You can also download the Ster-Kinekor App on any Nokia, Samsung Android, iPhone or Blackberry smartphone for updates, news and to make bookings. Follow on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, call Ticketline on 0861 Movies (668 437).

    View the preview of The Merry Widow.

    For more live opera on the big screen, go to www.writingstudio.co.za.

    About Daniel Dercksen

    Daniel Dercksen has been a contributor for Lifestyle since 2012. As the driving force behind the successful independent training initiative The Writing Studio and a published film and theatre journalist of 40 years, teaching workshops in creative writing, playwriting and screenwriting throughout South Africa and internationally the past 22 years. Visit www.writingstudio.co.za
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