Director Susan Stroman Captures Léhar’s Lively Essence

United StatesUnited States Léhar, The Merry Widow: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Sir Andrew Davis (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago. 20.11.2015. (JLZ)

11/11/15 1:49:26 PM -- The Lyric Opera of Chicago Presents "The Merry Widow" Renee Fleming © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015
The Lyric Opera of Chicago’s The Merry Widow
Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson
© Todd Rosenberg

Léhar, The Merry Widow


Hanna: Renée Fleming
Danilo: Thomas Hampson
Valencienne: Heidi Stober
Camille: Michael Spyres
Zeta: Patrick Carfizzi
St. Brioche: Jonathan Johnson
Cascada: Paul La Rosa
Njegus: Jeff Dumas
Bogdanovitch: Michael Weber
Kromow: Jonathan Weir
Pritschitsch: Fred Zimmerman
Sylviane: McKinley Carter
Olga: Jennie Sophia
Lolo: Ariane Dolan
Dodo: Alison Mixon
Jou-Jou: Emily Pynenburg
Frou-Frou: Annelise Baker
Clo-Clo: Jen Gorman
Margot: Catherine Hamilton
Praskovia: Genevieve Thiers


Director and Choreographer: Susan Stroman
Set Designer: Julian Crouch
Costume Designer: William Ivey Long
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable
Chorus Master: Michael Black
Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis

The Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Franz Léhar’s The Merry Widow returned to Lyric’s stage in Susan Stroman’s lively presentation. The sets evoke Paris: the first two acts are in the shadow of Montmarte, and the third act captures the interior of the librettos’s quintessential Belle Époque night club, the Chez Maxim. This well-rehearsed production has vivid costumes, lighting, and stage direction, and it is no surprise that dance is prominent, starting with the waltz-tableau near the end of the overture. In addition to the popular “Merry Widow Waltz,” there are the ribald grisette dances at Chez Maxim, visual references to polkas and mazurkas, and the extended gypsy-style choreography in the “Vilja” scene at the opening of the second act.

The “Vilja” aria was a showstopper for Renée Fleming, who delivered it with the aplomb she has used in the “Song to the Moon” of Dvořák’s Rusalka. A savvy, world-wise Hannah, Fleming was completely convincing. If the tempos were less dramatic than sometimes taken, the rich orchestral colors were clearly evident under Sir Andrew Davis’s direction, who overall led a well-paced and finely executed performance.

Thomas Hampson was equally strong as Danilo, showing his fine acting skills, especially in his opening monologue, “As diplomatic attaché,” deploying distinctive phrasing and delivery. The “Women” quintet (“Der Studium der Weiber ist schwer”), a send-up of a chorus line, had precision and balance, and commendably brought out the comic perspective. The lovers Valencienne and Camille—Heidi Stober and Michael Spyres, respectively—were appropriately ardent: Stober using her soaring soprano to memorable effect, and Spyres easily complementing her with musical intensity.

Jonathan Johnson (as St. Brioche) and Paul La Rosa (Cascada) continually sparred with each other—a nice touch. As Zeta, Patrick Carfizzi made a Lyric debut that promises well for the future. And reprising his role from Lyric’s last production of the opera, Jeff Dumas was an astute and worldly-wise Njegus.

Michael Black’s chorus gave fine voice to the set pieces, especially the opening of the second act, and was well-matched by the company of dancers. The latter’s high-kicking choreography reflected the style of the times, and only added to the richly textured ambience.

Thanks to Jeremy Sams’s English translation (rather than the original German), surtitles were almost unnecessary, though in some places the weaknesses of English idioms were revealed. And though the spoken passages were discreetly amplified, some unfortunate reverberation occurred, sometimes in prominent moments, which gave the sense of a Broadway musical. But all in all, Stroman’s fast-paced modern production captured the work’s sentimental character. Combining Lyric’s exceptional musical delivery with good stagecraft, her pacing and timing made even the predictable ending fresh and lively.

James L. Zychowicz

Leave a Comment