OPERA - OTHER COMPOSERS - MERRY WIDOW - 2004
delightful acting and singing is hamstrung by meagre stage sets and an
The Merry Widow should be a two-hour dance party. Its three acts
are set at balls and the score is a mix of waltz and folk dance. To
carry the evening off requires space on stage and pace from the pit.
Opera Australia’s new production provided neither. Its delights were
in the minor roles with singers who can act. Its charms came from the
as the cheerful widow works on the bright side of matronly and the
shapely side of statuesque. Her Vilja was beautifully articulated
and delicately shaded, attributes she sustained throughout the evening.
Her great love
is a cut-price Don Juan to whose shallowness and callousness Jeffrey
Black paid improper respect. His voice was stretched across baritone and
tenor yet proved convincing emotionally as he struggled not to admit to
himself his love for the widow.
As the young
lovers, Tiffany Speight was sprightly and Kanen Breen supplied the high
tenor essential in operetta. Supporting singers were faultless in their
interventions, ever willing to risk their reputations and their bones to
achieve the ridiculous.
Widow pitches showstopping tunes
against an action-clogging storyline. The Jeremy Sams translation boosts
the dialogue along. Given that the plot pivots on an insolvent bank, a
topical crack or two at company auditors would not have gone amiss.
As ever, John
Bolton-Wood as the ambassador to Paris made the most ludicrous lines
both funny and credible. In this department he had the assistance of the
sublime Bob Hornery as embassy messenger. A director in tune with the
piece would have inserted the Gendarmes’ Duet for this
fantastic pair. That other trooper, Rosemary Gunn, was a delicious
tragic figure, whether throwing discretion to the wind or kicking her
legs in the air.
insuperable problem is the set for which its designer Michael
Scott-Mitchell and the director Simon Phillips share the responsibility.
Yet again, a revolving stage turned into evidence that machinery can
never deliver what the imagination lacks. Here, the production concept
had no energy to make the skirts whirl and tails flare.
the revolve was occupied by an arc of steps which got in the way, as did
the giant cigarette box out of the top of which popped the stars. This
trick entry was a winner the first time, but should then have been
dragged to the back along with the staircase to leave room for fun and
games. Instead, these contraptions were thrust forward so that such
action as was possible was cramped on the apron.
poverty of ideas be explained as one more consequence of the state of
Opera Australia’s finances? For The Widow to succeed, it needs
to overwhelm the creaks in its libretto with lavish scenes. The changes
to this set were little more than shifting a string of gigantic pearls
from one side of the stage to the other.
barrier against movement became the more annoying when the male dancers
gave a modern rendition of Slavic folk. Choreographer Ross Coleman
deserved more room and a longer interlude. Nick Schlieper’s lighting
should have taken more cues from the primary colours of Hugh Colman’s
The band lacked bounce, cloying when it should have swung. The chorus was sweet behind Vilja but took flight only once, just before the end. The cluttered stage prevented the musicians and singers picking up the rhythm. The cast got more lift from spasms of rhythmic clapping out of an audience which hummed along.