The Merry Widow, Operetta by Franz Lehár
Richard Heuberger was the first to try his hand at composing the music for The Merry Widow; however, his efforts were ultimately rejected by the librettists Viktor Léon and Leo Stein, who sought the services of Franz Lehár instead. The Austro-Hunrgarian maestro rose to the challenge and produced a truly timeless piece of musical comedy. Teatro Costanzi in Rome will demonstrate that.
The Merry Widow (or Die lustige Witwe in German) was based on L’attaché d’ambassade by Henri Meilhac and follows the Parisian escapades of the wealthy widow Hanna Glawari. Baron Zeta, the ambassador of her native land Pontevedro is very distraught at the prospect of her marrying a Frenchman and pulling her vast riches out of the small country, which would effectively bankrupt it. To prevent disaster, Zeta tries to rekindle the love between Hanna and Count Danilo Danilovich, but will he make it?
To add to the drama, Baron Zeta’s young wife Valencienne is being pursued by an insistent suitor, Camille de Rosillon, and she does not exactly push him away. As Zeta is fighting for the survival of both his country and his marriage, Hanna and Danilo find their love for one another. The rich widow orchestrates a series of hilarious deceptions to produce a massive happy ending where love truly conquers all.
To make The Merry Widow as authentic and energetic as possible, Lehár relied on his good knowledge of Eastern European folk music. Since Pontevedro is just the poorly disguised Montenegro, the composer’s knack for Balkan rhythms and their characteristic vivacity plays to the operetta’s advantage. The comical elements of the plot are emphasised through many dance numbers, most notably the final waltz ‘Lippen schweigen’. Hanna’s aria ‘Vilja Lied’ is also quite memorable.
The Merry Widow had its premiere at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien on 30 December 1905. The initial response was mixed, but the operetta quickly gained traction and became one of the most beloved representatives of its genre, along with Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. The production by the Rome Opera House gives Lehár’s masterpiece another worthy revival.