LABELS: BBC Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Lehár
WORKS: Die lustige Witwe (in English)
PERFORMER: Yvonne Kenny, Bo Skovhus, Angelika Kirchschlager, Gregory Turay; San Francisco Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Erich Kunzel; dir. Lotfi Mansouri (San Francisco, 2001)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 0836 D
If you like your operetta with a double dollop of Schlagsahne then this is the Merry Widow for you. A lavish confection that is more sweet than bitter and in its visual extravagance adds inches to the waistline. Indeed, the accountants must have been on holiday when Lotfi Mansouri, the departing general director of the San Francisco Opera, served up Lehár’s masterpiece for his farewell in 2001.
Purists, however, may feel that Michael Yeargan and Thierry Bosquet have designed not Pontevedro in exile in Paris, but Ruritania à la Hollywood. Act I is all black and white like Cecil Beaton’s Ascot in My Fair Lady, while the costumes for Hannah’s Pontevedrian party in Act II appear to be refugees from Kismet. And when the newly commissioned ballet that opens Act III is scarcely two steps old it’s the dancing waiters in Hello, Dolly! you recall not Maxims. (And it is Maxims, for Mansouri has opted for the French version of The Merry Widow sung in English and with the dialogue wittily rewritten by Wendy Wasserstein.)
But who cares? The widow works her old magic on Count Danilo – and the audience. Yvonne Kenny is a wonderfully knowing Hannah even if the edge to her voice occasionally grates. Bo Skovhus is by turns dashing and petulant as Danilo, though the male singing honours surely go to Gregory Turay’s Camille (close your eyes and you can almost hear Tauber). And if Angelika Kirchschlager can’t make much of Valencienne then that’s not her fault – it’s just how the role is written. So undo your belt and enjoy! Christopher Cook