Friday, January 12, 2018

THE MERRY WIDOW - Sydney Opera House

Danielle de Niese in "The Merry Widow" 
Photo: Jeff Busby

Director and Choreographer: Graeme Murphy – Associate Director/Choreographer: Janet Vernon – Conductor: Vanessa Scammell -English translation by Justin Fleming - Set Designer:  Michael Scott-Mitchell - Costumes designer: Jennifer Irwin - Lighting designer:  Damien Cooper - Sound designer: Tony David Gray.
Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until 3rd February 2018

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

There are many reasons to celebrate this magnificent production of a wonderful old warhorse which still manages to enchant more than 100 years after its first performance. Not the least is the opportunity it affords to experience the performances of Danielle de Niese and Alexander Lewis, two Australian singers who are rapidly establishing themselves as rising stars on International operatic stages.  Together they are a bewitching pair and provide the production with a stunning central focus.

Alexander Lewis (Danilo) and Daneille de Niese (Hanna Glavari)

Photo: Jeff Busby

Ideally cast as the wealthy young widow, Hanna Glavari, eager to re-fan the flames of a former love affair, Danielle de Niese exudes star power. A convincing actress with a dazzling smile, and lustrous, creamy soprano, she commands attention from the moment she hits the stage. Jennifer Irwin has created a series of sumptuous costumes for her, which she wears with flair, while Graeme Murphy’s staging takes advantage of her dance skills to great effect.

Her Danilo, Alexander Lewis, also is an excellent dancer, as well as a fine actor and singer, and their superbly staged scenes together generate a captivating sexual frisson and chemistry rarely seen on operatic stages.

Stacey Alleaume (Valencienne) and John Longmuir (Camille)

Photo: Jeff Busby

Stacey Alleaume and John Longmuir are also beautifully paired, singing superbly and playing the roles of “The Respectable Wife”, Valencienne, and her ardent paramour, Camille, with complete conviction.

Richard Anderson (Kromov), Tom Hamilton (Pritschich), David Whitney (Mirko Zeta), Bradley Cooper (de St Brioche),
Alexander Lewis (Danilo), Christopher Hillier (Bogdanovich), Luke Gabbedy (Cascada)

PhotoL Jeff Busby

The first rate supporting cast includes Benjamin Rasheed (Njegus), Richard Anderson (Kromov), Luke Gabbedy (Cascada), Tom Hamilton (Pritschich) Brad Cooper (de St.Brioche) and Stuart Haycock, seamlessly replacing an indisposed Christopher Hiller on opening night, as Bogdanovich, together with Agnes Sarkis (Olga Kromov) and Celeste Lazarenko (Sylviane). All were obviously revelling in the opportunities provided by Justin Fleming’s witty new libretto to create some delightfully silly, blustering characterisations.

Danielle de Niese in "Vilja" 

Photo: Jeff Busby

Graeme Murphy’s carefully nuanced direction bristles with imaginative ideas, and his staging of the various duets is masterly, as is his breathtaking treatment of the second-act story-song, “Vilja” which climaxes with de Niese being held aloft on a giant water-lily frond in a Monet-inspired setting.

His typically idiosyncratic choreography for his twelve excellent dancers provides the champagne sparkle for each scene, but he has also devised some inspired work for his principals including an entertaining staging of “Women, Women, and Women” and the dreamy “Merry Widow” waltz for Hanna and Danilo which climaxes the show.

Danielle de Niese and company - Act 3 "The Merry Widow" 

Photo:Keith Saunders

Then there’s Michael Scott-Mitchell’s beautiful, soaring  art-deco settings, imaginatively lit by Damien Cooper, Jennifer Irwin’s gorgeous costumes, and the impeccable performance of the Opera Australia orchestra conducted by Vanessa Scammell which  nails the authentic Viennese lilt of Franz Lehar’s irresistible score. What more could you ask?  This production is such a feast for the eyes, the ears and the heart that it’s destined to become a treasured memory for anyone lucky enough to experience it.

Danielle de Niese and dancers 
Photo: Jeff Busby

This review also published in Australian Arts Review.