Review- The Merry Widow- Musicaviva


By Zabrina Lo




Musica Viva’s The Merry Widow came just in time to spice up the holiday. Originally performed in German in 1905, and subsequently, in a great many languages, notably French and English, this Hong Kong rendition is notable for its extravagant costumes, lavish sets and mesmerising dancing by Hong Kong Ballet.



Written by Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár, the three-act Viennese operetta tells the story of wealthy and gregarious widow Anna Glawari, who is wooed by guests at the birthday party of Pontevedro’s Sovereign prince at the Embassy in Paris. All want her hand in her (re-)marriage for their own interests. Baron Zeta plots to have her married off to Count Danilo, a Pontevedrian so that her inheritance can remain with almost bankrupted fatherland. Danilo is, in fact, Anna’s childhood sweetheart, but their romance was forbidden by Danilo’s aristocratic parents. Now that Anna has been elevated from being a farmer’s daughter to a banker’s widow, Danilo is too proud to admit he still loves her as he doesn’t wish to appear a gold-digger to Anna, and perhaps himself. The rest, a motley collection of European aristocrats, just want her money. In the meantime, Zeta’s wife Valencienne strives to resist French aristocrat Camille de Rosillon’s passionate pursuit in order to remain a respectable wife, as she considers herself to be.



While operas are now usually performed in the original language, English is regularly used for The Merry Widow. The original German can be more pointed at times whereas the French can sound regal; even among English productions, there are differences in both lyrics and dialogue as well in how these are delivered. This production is delivered with a comic, sparkly and not-so-serious touch. Musica Viva makes this early-twentieth-century rom-com even more relatable to the Hong Kong audience by adding timely jokes about how certain dishes aren’t available because of Brexit, or how Anna is not to be re-married to a Hongkonger.



The Merry Widow is set in Paris, which allows the Viennese operetta to feature the iconic French can-can as well as the expected waltzes. The singers are joined by dancers from the Hong Kong ballet, filling the stage and delivering brilliant performances of excitement and passion. The fusion of ballet, folk dance and waltz—together with flowing dresses and feather headpieces—gives the dance scenes additional magic and dazzle, reminiscent of Hong Kong Ballet’s splendid annual Christmas production The Nutcracker.



In another reminder of recent ballet productions, this time February’s The Great Gatsby, extravagant parties are a recurring theme in The Merry Widow. It’s difficult not to notice the similarity between Septime Webre’s HK Ballet production and Issac Wong’s set for Musica Viva’s The Merry Widow’s set by. For instance, the first scene is decorated with the same rhombus-patterned wall in black and gold, pointing perhaps at similar sources of inspiration Act II is Anna’s garden, decorated with a wall of vines and flowers; Act III is set in the famous nightclub Maxim’s, sparking with its name in lights. Unlike some other modern productions which can invoke minimalism or surrealism, Musica Viva’s is a traditional take. The combination of rich sets and period references combine for a rich, lavish and joyful staging in this Hong Kong version.



Yet not everything is merry in The Merry Widow. The romantic comedy is darkened by the repressed love between Valencienne and Camille. The powerful control of tenor Piotr Buszewski as Camille and the soulful singing of soprano Megan Pachecano as Valencienne stand out as both capture the pain of departure or burden of marital duty. Director Lo Kingman may have decided on a happily-ever-after ending where everything is resolved with a good laugh, reconciliation and a Broadway-style finale featuring the whole cast dancing and singing. However, the lingering shadow balances what would have been otherwise an extremely comic and light-hearted production, leaving the audience with a tinge of pain as the cast can-cans away through the curtain calls.


This production has now closed