I got free opera tickets through work, so last night sandrylene
and I went to go see the Boston Lyric Opera's production of The Merry Widow.The Merry Widow
is a very fluffy, very light operetta that takes place at the embassy of a make-believe tiny European country in 1905, where the ambassador is panicking because the country's richest widow is thinking she might want to marry again, and if she marries a foreigner and takes all her money out of the bank it will cause national financial collapse. Therefore everyone is very determined to hook widow Hanna up with drunken playboy Count Danilo, who happens to be her ex. Meanwhile, in the B-plot a French officer attempts to seduce the ambassador's wife, who is having none of it, and would therefore like to marry him off to the widow ASAP to get him out of her hair. Waltzing and hijinks ensue!
Boston Lyric Opera has made a couple of interesting decisions in their production of this opera. The first is that it is completely multilingual -- they've sort of picked and chosen from among the various translations, so the libretto is all in English, and the songs are in whatever language they feel like the character in question might plausibly be speaking at that time.
...conveniently their interpretation of Hanna is an American former showgirl, so a SIGNIFICANT CHUNK of her songs are in English, but they do get a fair bit French and German in there as well, which is kind of a cool approach!
The second is that they have changed the plot so that the entire story takes place in 1914, rather than 1905. As a result:
- a frequent gag is the ambassador's conviction that the greatest danger lies in the threat of attack from perfidious Monaco
- an even more
frequent gag is the appearance of Kivowitz the attache (a show-stealing character invented for this production) with some telegraph of vital importance regarding a.) Belgium's fears about invasion b.) the development of tanks and machine guns c.) Archduke Franz Ferdinand's travel plans d.) submarines etc.
- to which the inevitable response is 'lol what's a tank? anyway we have IMPORTANT, SERIOUS things to worry about, SOMEONE LOCK THE WIDOW AND THE COUNT IN A CLOSET TOGETHER IMMEDIATELY
- while Kivowitz, constantly in the background, is visibly hating his life more with every moment that passes
It's actually very funny, in a black kind of way that highlights the fact that the world in which this operetta takes place is Short-Lived And Doomed.
(The updated libretto is overall genuinely funny -- as I said on Twitter, my favorite was the guy who yelled "Don't get between them! IT'S A TRAP!" as the entire cast stares at Danilo and Hanna finally making out.)
It's not until act 3 that things start to get kind of sledgehammery, for ex.:
- an extremely bizarre flash-forward to Franz Ferdinand's death in the middle of a comic song titled "Quite Parisien"
- a lengthy speech by the French officer in which he declares that he is going off to join the army, then despairingly tries to convince the diplomat's wife to run away with him and leave Europe because everyone here is dancing and ignoring the fact that the world is going to end in terrible war!!
- a subsequent lengthy speech from Kivowitz at the end of the play, complaining about how everyone here is dancing and ignoring the fact that the world is going to end in terrible war!!
- a bit where most of the cast come out dressed in WWI military uniforms, looking vaguely shellshocked, and wistfully waltz with the empty air as the curtain drops, which would actually have been really effective for me in a Cabaret
sort of way if we had not just had two lengthy speeches already about how the world is going to end in terrible war!!
I mean I get what they were trying to do but I personally would have toned it down maybe a little, is what I am saying.
That said, it was overall a really fun production and I had an excellent time! (Also, don't worry about Kivowitz, he runs off with Hanna and Danilo to be their bouncer in the bar they are going to start in America in order to get away from the terrible war.)