Go inside this production of The Merry Widow with engaging articles, notes from the director, a complete plot synopsis artist bios, and more.
The world has known for more than a century that Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow is one of the greatest operettas ever written. It’s an absolute masterpiece, brimming over with wonderful melodies and a delightfully sentimental story.
We’re delighted to present The Merry Widow to you in Susan Stroman’s spectacular production, first seen at the Metropolitan Opera last season. For every member of that audience, it was a joyous evening of captivating storytelling and beautiful music-making.
In any operetta, understanding the text in both dialogue and song can play a huge role in our enjoyment of the piece as a whole. There’s a good deal of spoken dialogue in most of the great operettas, including The Merry Widow. In Jeremy Sams’s new version (created especially for this production), we have the treat of being able to savor the performances of great artists singing and speaking in our own language.
My two remarkable colleagues at Lyric, creative consultant Renée Fleming and music director Sir Andrew Davis, were integral to the success of this production at the Met, and it’s wonderful that they’re able to reprise Lehár’s operetta here in Chicago. Renée’s portrayal of the merry widow herself, Hanna Glawari, entranced the New York audience with its vitality, wit, and of course, the extraordinary vocalism that makes all of her portrayals unforgettable. And how marvelous it is for us to experience Sir Andrew’s astounding stylistic versatility in a season that includes his performances of not only Viennese operetta, but also Rossini, Berg, and a world premiere.
Two other remarkable artists are returning to Lyric in this production. Taking on the title role for the final three performances is Nicole Cabell, one of the Ryan Opera Center’s most distinguished alumni, a hugely acclaimed singing actress throughout America and Europe. Singing Count Danilo in all the Merry Widow performances will be the legendary American baritone Thomas Hampson, whose performances at Lyric in roles of Massenet, Verdi, and Wagner have made him a great Lyric favorite and an artist we’re thrilled to welcome back this season. Joining Renée, Nicole, and Tom in the important supporting roles are Michael Spyres (who gave an irresistible performance in our Fledermaus two seasons ago) and two marvelous artists in their Lyric debuts, Heidi Stober and Patrick Carfizzi.
The Merry Widow is bound to leave you floating on cloud nine, as if you’ve eaten the most delicious dessert. Its warmly romantic glow and dazzling melodies will, I hope, add greatly to the joy of your holiday season.
Baron Mirko Zeta, the Pontevedrian ambassador in Paris, is giving a ball at the Embassy. His home country is nearly bankrupt, and he hopes that their Parisian guests will help them raise the money they need. Zeta is pleased when he sees his young wife, Valencienne, flirting with Camille de Rosillon, a young Frenchman, assuming she’s trying to win French support for Pontevedro. In fact, Camille has declared his love for Valencienne and writes, “I love you” on her fan (Come quickly, please… A highly respectable wife). Zeta eagerly awaits the arrival of the guest of honor, Hanna Glawari, a wealthy Pontevedrian widow. He plans to get Danilo Danilovich, a womanizing aristocrat and the Embassy secretary, to marry her so that her millions will stay in Pontevedro.
Hanna arrives and is showered with compliments by the Parisian men (How beautiful you are). Valencienne realizes she has lost her fan with Camille’s incriminating message and rushes out to look for it. Finally Danilo arrives, fresh from a night of partying at Maxim’s (As diplomatic attaché). He and Hanna talk, revealing that they were once in love, but that Hanna was considered too far beneath Danilo’s status for him to marry her. He tells her he’s not interested in marriage and will never say, “I love you.”
Meanwhile, Zeta’s chief of staff, Kromov, finds Valencienne’s fan and thinks it belongs to his wife, Olga. Zeta, wanting to spare Olga a scandal, convinces him it is Valencienne’s. He then meets with Danilo and orders him to marry Hanna for the good of Pontevedro. Danilo tells him he will keep all the Parisian men away from her, but will not marry her. When the “ladies’ choice” dance is announced, Hanna selects Danilo and, after some flirtatious banter, the two finally dance.
The next evening, Hanna hosts a party at her mansion (Me velimo dase dase veslimo!...There once was a hunter). Danilo arrives late, and Zeta commands him to return to his mission of keeping the Parisian men from Hanna – particularly Camille. Danilo’s assistant, Njegus, reveals that Camille is already in love with a mystery woman. Zeta wants to know who she is, in order to marry her off to Camille, leaving Hanna free for a Pontevedrian suitor. Believing the fan to be the key to her identity, he asks Danilo to find its owner.
When Hanna comes across the fan and sees its inscription, she assumes it is a gift to her from Danilo, but he still won’t say, “I love you” and she will not accept him until he does. Their dance is interrupted by Zeta, who is still trying to learn the identity of Camille’s secret lover. The men agree to meet in the pavilion to discuss the matter. Camille and Valencienne finally find the missing fan, and this time Valencienne writes, “I am a respectable wife” on it. Observed by Njegus, they disappear into the pavilion (I know a place where we can go).
When Zeta arrives to meet Danilo, Njegus prevents him from entering the pavilion to protect Valencienne’s secret, and instead sneaks Hanna in to take her place. Hanna emerges with Camille, announcing their engagement. A furious Danilo departs for Maxim’s, which Hanna takes as proof of his love.
Arriving at Maxim’s in search of Danilo, Camille and Valencienne sneak off to one of the private rooms. Zeta and the other Pontevedrians appear, and the grisettes – among them a dressed-up Valencienne – entertain the crowd (Walking on the Champs-Élysées). Eventually both Danilo and Hanna arrive. He forbids her to marry Camille. When she explains that she was merely safeguarding another woman’s reputation, he is delighted but still won’t declare his love.
As the guests reassemble, Danilo announces that Hanna will not marry Camille, but he will not reveal the identity of Camille’s secret lover. Njegus produces the missing fan, which he found in the pavilion. Zeta finally recognizes it as his wife’s, declares himself divorced and proposes to Hanna – who informs him that, according to her late husband’s will, she will lose her fortune if she remarries. At this, the other men lose interest in Hanna, except Danilo, who finally declares his love (Music’s playing, hear it saying, ‘Love me, do’) and asks Hanna to marry him. She accepts and amends her account of the will: upon remarrying her fortune will pass to her new husband. Valencienne asks Zeta to read the other side of her fan – which reads, “I am a respectable wife.” With the couples united, the men are left to wonder about the mystery of women.
Synopsis reprinted by permission of The Metropolitan Opera.