Merry Widow Review - A Gift from Lyric Opera of Chicago

The wind blew us through the snow and into the lobby of the Civic Opera House. It was a night when we were delighted to try eating at the Florian Opera Bistro on the third floor.  We found the atmosphere there upbeat with patrons in glittery holiday clothes and engaged in pleasant conversation.  We enjoyed the food and the coffee was outstanding, better to enjoy the performance.


Although we usually attend the free pre-opera lecture, I knew it wouldn't be possible for this performance.  Happily, an alternative was available on Lyric's website (lyricopera.org) where I could prepare for the performance. I listened to three sections  of highlights by Roger Pines, and one commentary from Sir Andrew Davis.  The music was blissful and I listened more than once.  It did make the real thing even more enjoyable.

Stephen Costello, Andriana Chuchman can't resist


Fortified with our meal, we took our seats. Herta, who grew up in Vienna, was seated next to me and while we were waiting for the Opera to begin she told she was so pleased to be attending this performance.  She has a very special sense of connection to Franz Lehár. In the early 1960’s she was at the Hotel Ambassador in Vienna where the walls were decorated with framed first editions of Franz Lehárs' musical scores. This memory has remained with her.

Soon we entered the glittery, romantic world of Hanna Glawari, the "Merry Widow”, pleased to be away from the snow and cold. The new Gary Griffin production of Merry Widow by Franz Lehár at Lyric Opera of Chicago was a treat, truly a gift for this season.  I heard someone comment, “This is what we need”. 

Elizabeth Futral as Hanna at her party


As the opera begins, we find ourselves in Paris and the first scene with the large cast in beautiful costumes immediately drew applause.  We learn that the widow Hanna Glawari (soprano Elizabeth Futral), was married less than a week when her husband died leaving her 20 million francs making her the richest person in her country and particularly attractive to Paris’s most eligible bachelors. Hanna is a native of Petrovenia.   Baron Zeta (bass-baritone Dale Travis),Petrovinia's ambassador, is desperate to have her marry a native Petrovenian so that her fortune can remain in her own country. He tries to interest Hanna’s old flame, Count Danilo (tenor Roger Honeywell), in marrying her, but Danilo prefers to play the field with the grisettes – the can-can girls from Maxim’s.

The English lyrics and dialogue deserve special mention.  They were poetic and beautiful in their own right, as translated by Sheldon Harnick of Fiddler on the Roof fame.

Roger Honeywell, Elizabeth Futral


Franz Lehár, the son of an Hungarian military bandmaster was born in Komáron on April 30, 1870.  At age 12, he won a scholarship to the Music Academy in Prague, where he remained for six years studying violin and music where he met and was influenced by Antonin Dvorak and Johannes Brahms.

After unsuccessful attempts at dances and marches, including songs and an opera Kukuschka, his Gold und Silver (Gold and Silver) waltz was well received in Vienna. However, when Merry Widow opened on December 30, 1905, (performed in German), at Theater an der Wien in Vienna, it was an overwhelming success giving Lehár international recognition as a composer. The libretto is by Viktor Léon and Leo Stein based on L'Attaché de l'Ambassade by Henri Meilhac.  At Lyric, the Merry Widow was seen during the 1981 and 1986/87 seasons
 

Act 3, THE MERRY WIDOW


This production is delightful, uplifting and absolutely charming. Its instantly recognizable melodies, fabulous sets and captivating costumes make it a perfect introduction for opera newcomers.  My friend rearranged her vacation in order to take her 10 year-old granddaughter to this production, the perfect introduction to Opera. I met an acquaintance, Phyllis, who was attending her first Opera at a more advanced age.

Elizabeth Futral (Hanna Glawari), one of Ryan Opera Center's most celebrated alumni,  the merry widow, was mesmerizing, beautiful to look at with a voice that is a joy to hear.  Watching her move fluidly through space is a delight.  She held the audience in the palm of her hand from her entrance atop a winding staircase to the final scene. Third year Ryan Opera Center member, Andriana Chuchman (Valencienne), is beguiling. I loved the sets, and found the movement of the moon and the way the lights changed the mood in the second act, intriguing.   The peasant dances and the all male’s dances, were charming and fun. Jeff Dumas (Njegus), Chicago based actor, added charm and humor. The demands of comic timing, speaking roles and dancing rarely required of opera stars were handled with ease and aplomb.

Andriana Chuchman as Valencienne joining the Can-Can dancers


This is a must-see show for the holidays!!

Making Lyric debuts are: associate artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Gary Griffin (stage director); Daniel Ostling (set designer); Mara Blumenfeld (costume designer). Daniel Ostling and Mara Blumenfeld , based in Chicago, debuted at the Met in the past few years in Mary Zimmerman productions. Christine Binder is the lighting designer, Daniel Pelzig is the choreographer, and John Boesche is projection designer.

Lyric Opera production generously made possible by Jim and Vicki Mills/ Jon and Lois Mills, an Anonymous Donor, the Howard A. Stotler Estate, Donna Van Eekeren, and Bank of America.

Nearly one hundred and five and going strong



Great seats from $33 – tickets available for all remaining performances.  
Call 312-332-2244, x. 5600 to reserve or go to www.lyricopera.org to view video clips and order tickets

Photos: Dan Rest

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