Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
November 28, 2018
The Merry Widow is a real crowd pleaser. This is light entertainment that doesn’t take itself too seriously - The flipside to this is the tragicomic series of mishaps that prevent The Merry Widow’s thwarted lovers from getting together until the very last scene.
On opening night in Sydney, the lead roles of Hanna Glawari and Count Danilo were danced by Amber Scott and Adam Bull. Scott and Bull were always well matched physically; what they have developed over the last few years is a much more convincing emotional rapport, and this was evident in the level of acting and stagecraft they brought to this performance.
A standout feature of this production is the aesthetics of the lush Belle Epoch era so luxuriantly conjured up by Desmond Heeley’s costume and set design. In the ballroom scene of Act 1 Scene 2, the curved tendrils and curlicues of the staircase railing are matched by the leafy vines that encircle several prominent Corinthian columns. And when Hanna Glawari makes her first appearance on this very staircase, the viewer is struck by the black, glittery sheen of her dress in contrast with the soft feathered appearance of the white floral dresses worn by every other woman on stage.
As Valencienne, Leanne Stojmenov flirted and pouted her way across the stage with the kind of seemingly spontaneous dancing that is only made possible by a dancer’s consistent mastery of technique. This was evident not just in the more virtuosic elements of her role, but in the simple clarity and control of her echappes, turning this way and that in an effort to secure the attentions of Andrew Killian’s Camile in the very first scene. Killian, Stojmenov and Colin Peasley worked together well to elucidate the complexities of the love triangle these three characters develop over the course of the evening.
The corps de ballet performed a wide range of group dances, from elegant waltzes to highly stylized character dances and a particularly exuberant can-can in the final act at Chez Maxime. Ronald Hynd’s choreography is always in the service of the work’s narrative and the progression of character development. Franz Lehar’s music - while not one of the best ballet scores, is still extremely danceable and the music for Hanna and Count Danilo’s last waltz sticks in one’s memory long after the curtains have closed. Perhaps it is not surprising then, that this was the Australian Ballet’s 404th performance of The Merry Widow since it was first created for and performed by the company in 1975.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON
'The Merry Widow' continues at the Sydney Opera House until May 19, then moves to Canberra from May 25 to 30, then Melbourne from June 7 to 16.