Live review: Sylvie Woods goes to The Merry Widow

Sydney Awaits Opera Australia’s The Merry Widow



The Merry Widow
Opera Australia
Melbourne Arts Centre, (opening night)

What’d you miss?

  • Handsome gents leaping about in suits
  • A Marilyn Monroe-esque Danielle de Niese
  • Momentous raising of the rainbow flag at curtain-call: YES!


Adapted from Meilhac’s play L’attache d’ambassade, the opera in three acts The Merry Widow introduces us to a jocund, newly widowed Hanna Glawari (Danielle de Niese) as she reasserts her place in society. Suitor-surrounded and wrapped up in gaudy company, Glawari truly dazzles, although naturally the notable fortune quite suddenly in her possession is hardly coincidental to the vigilant persistence of her would-be friends.

Graeme Murphy (director, choreographer), Janet Vernon (creative assistant), Michael Scott-Mitchell (set designer), and Jennifer Irwin (costume designer) collaborated on a glamorous ambience throughout. The Parisian setting saw a comb over by Hollywood fascination, oozing out of sparkling gowns, toothy grins and oh-so-many handsome gents leaping about in suits. Bling-dripping de Niese laughs off the attention of her suitors, reminding us quite starkly of the tantalising Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The plot’s conviviality is fuelled by this charming widow, for as she encounters the affections of these bachelors, she falls under no delusion: she is not in the dark about the true root of their unswaying devotion. This is no tragedy where woman falls prey to man’s promise or trickery. As far as Glawari is concerned, the more the merrier!

Opera Australia present this light-hearted operetta with glitz, attention to detail, and a great cast. The theatrical, heavily-amplified razzmatazz bore a cost to traditional aspects, however. We missed Julie Goodwin’s second-to-none operatic vocals in the famous Vilja Lied, although de Niese entertained superbly in other areas, making a seductive, shimmering, and truly merry widow. Additionally, the froth boiled over in one of the dance numbers at Maxim’s. While the show was under no obligation to be debonair, the ‘sex sells’ choreography of the female dancers didn’t sell to me. Congratulations must be awarded to the wonderfully amusing David Whitney as Baron Mirko Zeta and the immovable Count Danilo Danilowitsch played by Alexander Lewis, although all characters performed with vibrancy.

I was thrilled by the raising of a rainbow flag at curtain-call, signalling an emotional and overwhelming support by the company for the majority YES vote in the marriage equality campaign that had been revealed only hours before. What a wonderful note to leave on.

Opera Australia’s The Merry Widow may certainly delight Sydney in January 2018. It is not to be missed.

Captured by Jeff Busby.

Image courtesy Opera Australia.

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