The Merry Widow, Operetta by F. Lehár
The Merry Widow became Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár’s calling card immediately at its bombastic premiere in Theater an der Wien in Vienna on 30 December 1905. The story of the unimaginably wealthy widowed noblewoman from an impoverished Balkan duchy strikes an immediate chord with audiences, and the operetta has enjoyed thousands of performances in its long and storied life on many an international stage. Teatro dell’Opera di Roma now revives The Merry Widow in the unique atmosphere of the Baths of Caracalla where the outlandishness and nobility of the plot find new, befitting life.
Librettists Viktor Léon and Leo Stein adapted the plot from the play L’attaché d’ambassade (or The Embassy Attaché) by French dramatist Henri Meilhac. Their original choice of composer had fallen on Richard Heuberger; however, they quickly dismissed his score and settled on Franz Lehár instead. Even though he had no prior experience with writing comic operettas, the composer soon produced a number of wonderful arias and instrumentals that decidedly won over Léon and Stein’s confidence. Armed with intimate knowledge of Slavic folklore, Lehár was able to produce a unique-sounding and atmospheric score that lends the operetta its trademark charm. Standout numbers the aria ‘Vilja Song’ and ‘The Merry Widow Waltz’ rank among the most memorable in the genre.
The operetta’s story starts in the imaginary Balkan duchy of Pontevedro. Its embassy in Paris is celebrating the Grand Duke’s birthday with a luxurious ball. The guest of honour is Hanna Glawari, a recently widowed Pontevedrian countess. The ambassador, Baron Mirko Zeta, is desperate to prevent her from marrying abroad because Pontevedro would go bankrupt if the countess’s wealth were to leave its bounds. Thus, the former love between Hanna and Count Danilo Danilovich must be reignited at all costs. While Zeta is busy playing matchmaker, his wife Valencienne becomes the romantic target of Count Camille de Rosillon. A series of risqué, comical and endearing situations ensue, leading up to a grandiose happy-end finale.