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Lehar Die lustige Witwe

Hanna Glawari (The Merry Widow) Michelle Walton; Camille de Rosillon Alfie Boe; Njegus Roy Hudd; Baron Zeta Richard Suart; Danilo John Graham Hall; Valencienne Fiona Murphy
ENO Orchestra and Chorus/Oliver von Dohnany; Director John Copley; Set Designer Tim Reed; Costume Designer Deirdre Clancy; Lighting Designer Howard Harrison; Choreography Anthony Van Laast and Nichola Treherne; Translation Jeremy Sams

ENO at The Coliseum, London 10 May 2008

We found ourselves seriously out of tune with the once popular Merry Widow operetta (778 performances in the 1907 London run) as newly Englished at ENO, and didn't find ourselves sharing the party atmosphere. And playing the second and third acts without interval made for an over-long second half...

The banalities of the text were reinforced by having them surtitled too; necessary, I hasten to add, because a lot of the dialogue (sung and spoken) didn't get across.

As the eponymous heroine we had Michelle Walton, Amanda Roocroft's understudy, singing at short notice (she is scheduled to take the performance on 21 May). She sounded, well, like an understudy. Just a few higher notes came through with ringing tone, her lower registers didn't carry, and she simply didn't have the glamour to hold the whole thing together.

We rather liked John Grahame-Hall's understated Danilo, fine from front stalls, but couldn't get interested in Richard Suart's Baron. Roy Hudd stole the show with his Act 3 ‘Très, Très, Très Français’ number, and turned it into a different genre, but we generally enjoyed the expertly choreographed dancing more than most of the singing.

The orchestra sounded heavy handed under Oliver von Dohnányi - 'born into a musical family' (Wikipedia) - until the delicate music which began the pot-pourri which was the curiously extended prelude to Act 3, given before a closed curtain; something of a luxury these days [gentle reprises of two of the work's famous tunes...(Denise van Outen)].

Of the very mixed reviews of the opening night (available easily for subscribers to TheOperaCritic) Music Web, Blomberg and the Financial Times voiced many of our reservations and, given those about Roocroft, had we heard her we might not have found that she quite tipped the balance favourably enough. We agreed that the most stylish partnership was between the secondary pair, the frustrated ardent tenor Alfie Boe and the desirable 'respectable married woman' of Fiona Murphy [pictured R].

For our enjoyment of the 'real thing', see Musical Pointers on Countess Maritza at Sadlers Wells.

Peter Grahame Woolf