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Lustige Witwe (Die)
25 Feb 2009

Lehár's Die Lustige Witwe from Semperoper Dresden

Jérôme Savary, director of this December 2007 Semperoper Dresden production of Lehár's Die Lustige Witwe, expresses a view in the booklet essay that many others will probably share: "What I like most of all about The Merry Widow is its music, which is literally bursting with colours, gyrating movements and sensuality..."

Franz Lehar: Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow)

Baron Mirko Zeta - Gunther Emmerlich; Valencienne - Lydia Teuscher; Graf Danilo Danilowitsch - Bo Skovhus; Hanna Glawari - Petra-Maria Schnitzer; Camille de Rosillon - Oliver Ringelhahn; Viscomte Cascada - Christoph Pohl; Raoul de St. Brioche - Gerald Hupach;

Medici Arts 2056818 [DVD]

$29.99  Click to buy

Leading the Staatskapelle Dresden forces, conductor Manfred Honeck does his best to present just such a reading. Two factors, however, work to mitigate his success. The singers, able as they may be and willing to have fun, mostly lack the vocal charisma to really put the music across at its best. Ultimately director Savary has to stage the dialogue scenes between the musical numbers, and the forced humor and annoyingly hyper performance style he elicits suggests he doesn’t like much about The Merry Widow except the music. Rather than cutting the dialogue down to a minimum, however, Savary opts for Benny Hill-style comic action, gratuitous sexuality and manic over-acting. Crass over class.

Hanna Glawari’s appearance by helicopter indicates some updating of the action, but the costumes and Folies Bergére dance routines could be early 20th century, while the plot remains very much late-19th. The dialogue, as is typical of operetta productions, gets a “freshening” as well, so that we get supposedly comical references to IKEA. With a fairly silly story such as this, no harm is done, except that the “anything for a laugh” approach becomes wearying. Indeed, audience laughter is spare and modest. Ahmad Mesgarhia proves especially tiresome as Njegus, mincing and shouting mercilessly.

Any successful Merry Widow depends on the star power of its leads, and though both Bo Skovhus as Danilo and Petra-Maria Schnitzer as Hanna Glawari possess strong voices and good looks, neither ever relaxes into their roles, and they have no spark between them. Skovhus sounds fine when on his own, but his voice and Schnitzer’s do not blend well. Though she is attractive and looks the part in Michel Dussarrat’s appealing costumes, Schnitzer tends to oversing, and every high notes falls short.

At one point, a character sighs and declares, “An operetta can drag on.” Well, this one certainly does, so maybe that was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The best thing about this set is Medici Arts slim packaging, although the too-slim booklet could have used a synopsis of the action.

Chris Mullins

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