The Merry Widow Review: This Widow is merrier than ever at Glyndebourne

Cal McCrystal work on One Man, Two Guvnors and the two Paddington films, inspires his direction of Franz Lehár’s operetta The Merry Widow to create perhaps the merriest show ever seen at this glorious opera house in Sussex.

Turning a 1905 German operetta into something that will be enjoyed by a British audience today poses a problem for any director, but Glyndebourne have solved it magnificently by asking Cal McCrystal to take on the task and giving free rein to his glorious comic talent.

While an opera has music and singing throughout, an operetta has a good deal of spoken dialogue between the arias, leaving it midway between a musical and an opera. McCrystal takes full advantage of the opportunities this offers, first by having it sung in English rather than the original German, which makes the jokes much easier to understand and the comic timing far less cumbersome than having to have surtitles, but even more by re-writing much of the dialogue and adding many jokes and witticisms of his own.

The show starts with a gloriously funny prologue delivered to the audience by actor/singer Tom Edden. With jokes about the production itself coming thick and fast, this put the audience in exactly the right receptive mood for what was to follow.

The Merry Widow of the title is Hanna, whose husband has died leaving her a large fortune, making her the richest person in the fictional princedom of Pontevedro. The Pontevedrian bank, however, is terrified that Hanna will be lured into marrying one of the many Parisians chasing her, who will then remove her money from Pontevedro, destroying their fragile economy.

McCrystal exploits the comic potential of all the resulting seductions, infidelity, scheming and misplaced loyalties and honour to give us something between a Whitehall farce and Hollywood musical, with more than a touch of zany Marx Brothers humour. Somehow, the tenderness of the genuinely romantic feelings between Hanna and her true love Count Danilo Danilovitsch shines through all the comic mayhem, and, with the addition of some delightful choreography from Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, comes together in an ending that is perfectly happy for the characters and the audience.

The entire cast seem inspired by the comic inventiveness of the production, with Danielle de Niese outstanding as Hanna, Thomas Allen, gloriously celebrating in fine style the 50th anniversary of his first appearing at Glyndebourne, as Baron Mirko Zeta, Mexican baritone Germán Olvera showing his singing and dancing versatility as Count Danilo and, most memorable of all, Tom Edden outrageously funny throughout.

Finally, the whole production is held together by the conductor, John Wilson, guiding the London Philharmonic Orchestra to bring suitable extra merriment to Lehár’s jolly music. Altogether, this is a marvellous production even by the impeccably high standards of glorious Glyndebourne.

The Merry Widow is playing at Glyndebourne on various dates until 28 July. Box Office: or 01273 815 000


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