Opera review: The Merry Widow at the English National Opera

But 1905 irreverence was very different from the 2019 version and the ENO have had the courage to bring the tale up to date in glorious fashion.

With new lyrics by Richard Thomas (who wrote the brilliantly sacrilegious Jerry Springer – The Opera a few years ago) and an amended story-line by April de Angelis, the production cleverly turns Lehar’s 1905 version of feminism into a thoroughly modern joke, even turning a rather misogynistic song for a male chorus into the complete opposite by staging it in a urinal with the men singing as they urinate and letting the latter get completely out of control as their passions rise.

The story, in both old and new versions, is set in the fictional state of Pontevedro where the economy is in dire straits and can only be saved if the fabulously wealthy widow Hanna Glawari can be persuaded to marry a native Pontevedrin.

The financial plight facing the country gives the opportunity for some funny oblique references to Brexit, and making the economy dependent on beavers provides an excuse for the choreographer and costume designer to introduce some splendid beaver costumes for the dancers.

The humour in the entire production is very well timed, with the first half funny enough, but nothing special, before the whole thing takes off irresistibly with both the dancing beavers and urination scene coming on stage very soon after the interval after which all restraint disappears.

The good mood throughout is fuelled by some excellent performances, notably soprano Sarah Tynan playing the title role as a thoroughly dignified but adventurous widow, and ENO stalwart Andrew Shore as Baron Zeta, the Pontevedrin ambassador to Paris who is trying to save his country from ruin.

With excellent comic support from the rest of the cast, this is a hugely enjoyable production which left the audience as merry as the widow herself.

The laugh-a-minute nature of the show rather diminished the tenderness of some of Lehar’s melodic duets, but it is totally justified.

Box Office: or 020 7845 9300 (until April 13)


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