The Merry Widow

 "Opera Theater's production was thoroughly engaging... Ms. Singer, whose speaking voice on WQED-FM is as familiar to Pittsburghers as is her accomplished singing, is a magnetic personality who holds focus every moment she's on the stage... It was in her duets with the dashing Danilo of Dimitrie Lazich, however, that Ms. Singer did her best work. Together, these two very likable performers had a palpable chemistry, whether in their manifold protestations of love, or their final romantic declarations in the opera's most familiar melody."

      —Robert Croan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Dimitrie Lazich, as Count Danilo Danilovitch, might just as well have stolen the scenery as he left the theater at the end of the performance... a well-schooled and powerful baritone voice that became mellower and richer as the evening progressed...Anna Singer, as the “Widow,” presented a charming stage picture, acted the part nicely with a fine comedic flair (most notable in the “Can-Can” scene)...her performance was one that satisfied an audience that loudly expressed its appreciation several times...Ultimately, an audience that leaves the theater humming the famous “Waltz” is a happy one, and SummerFest’s “The Merry Widow” obviously made many people very happy indeed."

      —Pittsburgh Stage

 

The Merry Widow is arguably one of the most popular operas (or operettas) of all times. Since its premiere in Vienna in 1905, this Franz Lehár classic has been delighting audiences with its charming melodies and lavish party scenes. The libretto, by Viktor Léon and Leo Stein, follows Hanna, a rich widow, and her countrymen's attempt to keep her money in the principality by finding her the right husband.

Anna Singer

WQED-FM's Anna Singer returns for her third SummerFest season as Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow

 

 

 

 

 

 

Production Team

 

Cast

Composer   Franz Lehár   Hanna Glawari   Anna Singer
Librettists   Viktor Léon and Leo Stein   Danilo Danilovich   Dimitrie Lazich
English Translation   Jeremy Sams   Baron Mirko Zeta   Raymond Blackwell
Director   Mo Zhou   Valencienne   Gail Novak Mosites
Conductor   Bernard McDonald   Camille, Count de Rosillon   Joseph Brent
Scenic Designer   Marie Yokoyama   Njegus   Scott Timm
Costume Designer   Cynthia Albert   Kromow   Xiaozhong Wang
Mair/Makeup Designer   Taylor Malott   Bogdanovitch   Brian Hupp
Lighting Designer   Stevie Agnew   Sylviane   Jennifer Hermansky
Choreographer   Jessica Marino   Raoul de St. Brioche   Pierre Dehret
Assistant Director   Tania Coambs   Vicomte Cascada   Jake Jacobsen
        Olga   Evelyn Rossow
        Pritschitsch   Zachary Luchetti
        Praskowia   Melissa Nolan
        Lolo   Rachel Crossman
        Dodo   Julia Fox
        Joujou   Chelsea Hollow
        Froufrou   Megan McConnell
        Cloclo   Cassandra Santiago
        Margot   Adele Grabowski
        Cameo entertainer   Guillaume Houcke

 

English Translation used by arrangement with European American Music Distributors Company, U.S. and Canadian agent for Glocken Verlag Ltd., London, publisher and copyright owner.

Orchestration by arrangement with Trillenium Music Co., Sarasota FL.

 

 

The Story

Act I

With the ever-present musical backdrop of a waltz theme, Baron Mirko Zeta greets his guests at an embassy function and leads them in a toast. His wife, Valencienne, is speaking privately to a young attaché who fancies himself in love with her. She is flattered, but cautions him that she is a respectable married woman in the gentle song, “I am a dutiful wife.” Zeta is preoccupied with his concern over the arrival in Paris of the young widow, Hanna Glawari, whose now-deceased husband was the richest man in Pontevedro. He is concerned that she will marry a foreigner while she is in Paris, effectively removing her great fortune from their tiny country and creating a financial calamity.

Hanna arrives at the party fully aware of Zeta’s anxiety and soothes him by expressing her love for her homeland. Several suitors claim her attention and she leads them away, just before the next guest arrives: Count Danilo Danilovich. Danilo recoils upon hearing Hanna’s name but quickly comes face-to-face with her. They had once been in love but had been separated by Danilo’s uncle who prevented their marriage due to her unsuitability. Now Danilo is scornful of Hanna’s money and does not wish to appear interested in her. 

Baron Zeta notices Danilo and Hanna together and seizes the moment, telling Danilo that it is his patriotic duty to marry Hanna thereby keeping her great fortune in Pontevedro. The dancing has begun and a ladies’ choice is announced. Hanna’s suitors are hovering close by, hoping for an invitation, but Hanna chooses Danilo who at first makes the excuse that he can’t dance and then offers to sell his dance with Hanna for 10,000 francs. Her other suitors are discouraged by the amount and walk away. Left alone, Danilo acquiesces to dance with Hanna who refuses him in exasperation. Danilo ends up dancing without a partner. 

Act II 

The following day Hanna hosts a party where the guests are treated to authentic Pontevedrian singing and dancing. Hanna entertains the group with the ballad of “Vilja,” a woodland sprite who falls in love with a mortal man.

Hanna tells Baron Zeta that she intends to engage a troop of dancing girls to entertain Danilo in the style of Maxim’s cabaret. This buoys his hope that something of a romantic nature will develop between Hanna and Danilo. Danilo arrives at the party but seems oblivious to Hanna’s apparent interest. Zeta asks Danilo and Njegus, his aide, to meet him at the summerhouse in the garden at eight o’clock and then joins with some other men from the party to ponder the unpredictability of women. Hanna continues to probe Danilo’s possible interest in her. They walk away leaving Valencienne and Camille to talk privately about the future of their flirtation. Valencienne feels their infatuation should come to an end and that Camille should propose marriage to Hanna. Camille is dismayed but agrees to one last meeting in the summerhouse. 

Njegus sees the pair go into the summerhouse and retrieves Valencienne just as her husband arrives. Hanna takes her place in the summerhouse with Camille but Zeta, however, is still suspicious of what he thinks he saw. In the meantime Camille is playing out his part in the pretense thereby convincing Danilo that Hanna is having a romance with Camille. He sounds so credible that Valencienne believes it as well and is dismayed by Camille fickleness. Hanna knows that none of this is true but is enjoying herself so much that she expands on the joke and announces that she is going to marry Camille. Danilo pretends to be unaffected by the news but ultimately can not contain his frustrated anger. He draws himself up in righteous indignation to tell the story of a princess who made a ruin of her life, simply because she wanted to spite her lover. That said, he stomps off, looking for solace in the delights of Maxim’s. 

Act III

It is later that same night and Njegus has assisted Hanna in converting her parlor into the very image of Maxim’s cabaret, including the Grisettes with whom Valencienne has volunteered to appear. Danilo comes in and joins in the rousing chorus as Lolo, Dodo, Joujou, Froufrou, Cloclo and Margot lavish attention on him. He receives a telegram from Pontevedro verifying the country’s financial collapse if Hanna’s money is removed from the Pontevedrian treasury. Out of patriotism Danilo officially prohibits Hanna’s marriage with Camille. Hanna reveals that the marriage plans were fabricated and Danilo reacts joyfully, admitting his love for her. 

In the meantime Baron Zeta has determined that Valencienne really was the woman he saw in the summerhouse and states that he will divorce her. Then he promptly asks Hanna to marry him. Hanna states that her dead husband’s will stipulated that she would lose her money if she remarried. Danilo, excited by the prospect that Hanna’s money will not be an issue, states that he wants to marry her. But Hanna continues to protest. Danilo realizes that if he wants Hanna, he must accept the money, and in doing so he can also save his country. He surrenders quickly, embracing his fate with happiness. Baron Zeta forgives his wife when he reads the inscription on her fan which states, “I am a respectable wife.” All join in praise of the captivating mystery of womankind.
     — Courtesy of Virginia Opera

 

Meet the Composer

Composer

Franz Lehár
[born Komáron, Hungary, 30 April 1870; died Bad Ischl, 24 Oct 1948]

Franz Lehar
Franz Lehar

Born in Hungary, young Franz Lehár soon followed in his musical father's footsteps. His father, educated in Sternberg, played in the orchestra of the Theater an der Wien, and for nearly 40 years was a military bandmaster and composer of dances and marches. Lehár was also sent to Sternberg (where his uncle was the town's musical director) to improve his German. He played the violin in his uncle's orchestra, and at the age of 12 began studies at the Prague Conservatory. At the conservatory, Lehár studied violin and theory; he also took some private lessons in composition and received advice from Dvorák. Also like his father, Lehár played in military bands and eventually became a military bandmaster. 

Lehár came to Vienna (Wien, in German) in 1902, where he embarked on a successful operetta career. In addition to composing operettas, he was conductor at the summer theatre in the Prater and at the Theater an der Wien, where his father had played years before. Lehár's first success in Wien came in his first year there with Wiener Frauen and Der Rastelbinder. His next two works were both failures, but in 1905, Lehár achieved lasting fame with Die Lustige Witwe, or The Merry Widow. This operetta's success was the greatest in operetta history, and opened the door for great operettas by Lehár, Fall, Oscar Straus, and Kálmán. 

His works after Die lustige Witwe show Lehár's attempts to stretch his style and produce original pieces. He also tried to incorporate popular music styles, like the blues, foxtrot and tango into his works. Though the press accused him of pretentiousness, an association with the singer Richard Tauber through the 1920s brought a new era of success. His operettas still included original elements (some had unhappy endings, almost unheard of in Viennese operetta), but the public loved them. 

Lehár went on to produce film versions of his operettas, as well as some original film numbers. During World War II he was caught in a delicate position: his wife was Jewish, and he had friends and colleagues who died in concentration camps; however, Die lustige Witwe was one of Hitler's favorite works. Always too absorbed by his music to be involved in politics, Lehár's refusal to protest Nazi politics drew criticism from outside Germany. He died after the war in Bad Ischl, where his villa is now a Lehár museum. 

Lehár is known for his wonderful melodies, especially his tender waltzes. Most composers of his time did not orchestrate their own scores, but Lehár did so with sensitivity and imagination. His proficiency at the violin is infused into his works in difficult violin solos, and the solo violin was a trademark feature in heightening the sensuousness of his love-scene waltzes.

Librettists

Victor Léon
[born Vienna, 4 Jan 1858; died Vienna, 30 Feb 1940]
Born Victor Hirschfeld, Victor Léon was a popular Austrian librettist. His work as a stage manager for two theaters in Vienna connected him to the life of music theater and operetta librettos. He crafted librettos for over seventy operettas, including those of Richard Heuberger, Johann Strauss and Franz Lehár. He continued writing throughout the early 20th century. 

Leo Stein
[born Lemberg [now L’viv], 25 March 1861; died Vienna, 28 July 1920 or 1921]
Leo Stein was a playwright and librettist, known for being inventive and thoughtful in writing librettos for operettas. For some time he held an office job while studying law and writing lyrics, however, he later focused solely on writing. He worked with Johann Strauss, Béla Jenbach and Oskar Nedbal. Stein first partnered with Victor Léon on the work Wiener Blut.

 

The World of Hanna Glawari

According to most French dictionaries, the word “operetta” was taken from the German word operette or from the Italian operetta meaning “little opera or a little opéra-comique,” but the French refined the form, with Offenbach serving as the founding father with a myriad of popular works.

In the second half of the 19th century, however, the development of operetta shifted to Vienna. The Viennese loved works like Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène, but they were delirious with Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, which became the gold standard by which other operettas were measured. The waltz was the Wiener Blut (Viennese blood) running through Viennese veins, and no one wrote waltzes or waltz-operettas like Strauss, though many tried. The Viennese also loved the sentimentality and gemütlichkeit (coziness) that were part of the Strauss style. 

Franz Lehár’s Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow), which was composed in 1905 and represented one of the composer’s greatest accomplishments, ushered in a new era of modern operettas in which the waltz was used for romantic plot purposes, and was danced as much as sung. Lehár’s melodic gifts were extraordinary, and he had a penchant for the sweeping romantic phrases which ultimately defined the period. 

Franz Lehár, the son of a Hungarian bandmaster, was born in Komarno, Hungary on April 30, 1870, and first studied music with his father. At age 12, he entered the Prague Conservatory, where he studied violin and music theory for six years. At age 19, his studies completed, he played violin in an opera orchestra and subsequently became assistant bandleader in his father’s ensemble. 

In 1896 came his first success as an operetta composer with Kukuschka, which was produced in Leipzig. In 1902, he was appointed conductor of the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, the home of Austrian operetta. Lehár wrote more than thirty operettas over the next 25 years. With The Merry Widow, he scored an international triumph and became one of the most celebrated (and wealthiest) operetta composers of his day. Among the operetta’s enduring numbers are The Merry Widow Waltz and the haunting Vilia. Lehár’s popularity gave the Viennese operetta a new lease on life at a time when its heyday was believed to be over. 

One of his last operettas, Das Land des Lächelns (The Land of Smiles) (1929), contains one of the best loved of all his vocal numbers, “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz allein” or “Yours Is My Heart Alone,” sung by generations of tenors. During World War II, Lehár lived in seclusion at his villa in Bad Ischl, Austria, where he died in 1948. He was one of the few composers to outlive the copyrights of some of his best-known works.
     — Courtesy of Tulsa Opera

 

Other Resources

Learn more about The Merry Widow from these books, recordings, and scores available on Amazon: