Opera is a diverse and captivating genre. It often gets a bad reputation as mere melodrama but opera needs to be experienced to be understood. There’s no way of understanding the depths of a novel without cracking open the book and, with opera, you really need to dive in wholeheartedly. The Merry Widow, set in 1920’s Paris, is a comedic spin on love triangles. The usual will-they-won’t-they is met with fantastic one-liners and tongue-in-cheek lyrics.
The show follows the widow Hanna Giavari (Taryn Fiebig) welcomed at the Pontevedrian Embassy in Paris by a number of greedy suitors after her fortune. Thrown in the mix is a love affair between Valencienne (Emma Pettemerides), the wife of the ambassador Baron Mirko Zeta (Andrew Foote), and the handsome Camille de Rosillon (John Longmuir). The Baron himself hears of Camille’s romance and investigates the identity of his lady friend, while also attempting to match Hanna with a fellow Pontevedrian, Count Danilo Danilovich (Alexander Lewis).
The Merry Widow showcased a complexity of emotions. From the serious, heartbreaking songs of misguided love, to the outrageously funny numbers revealing the quirky personalities of characters. ‘The complexities of women’, referenced in one particularly laugh-inducing ditty featuring the leading men, was a key comedic moment which left the audience in stitches. One of my favourite moments of the show was Njegus’s (Michael Loney) drunken explanation of how champagne turns him ‘Parisian’, featuring a wonderful dancer dressed in drag. Loney’s character was a highlight of the show, adding a large amount of humour in his sarcastic comments and tact.
I must mention both Taryn Fiebig and Alexander Lewis wowed in their leading roles. Their vocals capturing and, at times, shockingly beautiful. From the moment Count Danilo Danilovich stepped on stage I knew he would be my favourite character. His dishevelled appearance at the ball, begging to take a nap before joining the party, was a whimsical and yet endearing introduction to his character. In contrast, Hanna Giavari was introduced in a whirl of parading men but her reluctance to be the center of attention was clear. There was a wonderful moment in the second act where the widow holds a party at her home and is welcoming her guests through song. Twice in this number Fiebig is seated on a platform and raised by three dances to the sky, and there is a kind of silence made from everyone in the audience holding their breath as she sits above the heads of those holding her. Her voice was piercing and compelling.
One thing that I adore about the West Australian Opera is there is always a high standard of attention to detail. The costuming and set design were insane for The Merry Widow. Such hard work and creativity were utilised to transform a mere stage into three dramatically intricate settings. The addition of dancers, as well as the chorus, created fast-paced and energetic numbers that contrasted the more intimate ballads.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Merry Widow, it’s the perfect balance of comedy and romance. The humourous investigations and gossip surrounding the love affairs, and the earnest love of those who missed their chance once and refuse to miss it again, all add together to form a complex yet satisfying plot. The only downfall was the minuscule moment at the end of the show when the widow declared that “love makes us blind”, spelling out for anyone who could have possibly missed the moral of the story, but I did leave the theater smiling; there is always something so satisfying about a classic rom-com.
For more information, and to book tickets, head to the West Australian Opera website.