ALBUM TITLE: Lehaár
WORKS: The Merry Widow
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming, Nathan Gunn, Kelli O’Hara, Alek Shrader, Thomas Allen, Carson Elrod; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet/ Andrew Davis; dir. Susan Stroman
CATALOGUE NO: 074 3900
New York’s Metropolitan Opera opened a new production of Lehár’s classic operetta on New Year’s Eve 2014, and this HD transmission was relayed a couple of weeks later. It’s something of a marriage of old-fashioned Met values to Broadway. Multi-award winning musical theatre director and choreographer Susan Stroman – director of the award-winning The Producers, followed by the more controversial The Scottsboro Boys – took charge of the staging. She worked with her regular costume designer, William Ivey Long, and with Broadway songstress Kelli O’Hara (who was operatically trained) taking on the important role of Valencienne.
From a visual point of view, it’s a broadly traditional show, and even a trifle dull, though there’s a spectacular scene change between Acts II and III, when we move from Hanna’s Parisian villa to the interior of Maxim’s via a ballet interpolated from John Lanchbery’s 1975 arrangement of Lehár’s score for choreographic purposes.
The ballet is not the only addition to what we regularly hear. We also have the overture, written by the composer in 1940, long after his original 1905 score, and essentially redundant. In the final scene, Renée Fleming’s Hanna Glawari sings one of the better known numbers from Lehár’s 1925 operetta Paganini; again, this seems a rather pointless inclusion. Like the rest of the show, ‘Liebe, du Himmel auf Erden’ is sung in Jeremy Sams’s expertly crafted translation, which fits Lehár’s notes like a glove; his dialogue does the trick too.
The cast is variable. As Hanna, Fleming’s soprano continues to be in good shape, though neither she nor Nathan Gunn’s Danilo really provides the magnetic quality star operetta roles ideally require. Kelli O’Hara’s Valencienne cannot match Alek Shrader’s Camille for charm or vocal allure. Thomas Allen provides a neat and effective Baron Zeta, and the actor Carson Elrod fields a likable and funny Njegus. But the show rarely takes off in theatrical terms. Andrew Davis
is the conscientious conductor.