By the end of Opera North's new production of Franz Lehár's operetta The Merry Widow not only has the future of the fragile Pontevedrian economy been assured but the show has finally ignited after a cool start.
We're promised Parisian sensuality and Viennese sophistication, but instead, cast into the Stygian gloom of the Lowry's Lyric Theatre, the show lacks intimacy and charm, thanks to the rather leaden interpretation by director Giles Havergal.
Another problem is that the one-set-fits-all design – dominated by Belle Epoque statues of scantily clad women as light fixtures with black flats bearing images of white chandeliers – conveys little in the way of a glamorous atmosphere. It makes no distinction between the Pontevedrian embassy in Paris and the widow Hanna Glawari's home, though at least the voices are audible by this stage. And apart from a predictable joke about bankers and a few cheeky rhymes ("tinsel starlet" with "harlot" among the best), Kit Hesketh-Harvey's new translation is light on puns and innuendo.
But if the production is slow to warm up dramatically, it is musically more striking. Sparkling in voice and costume, Stephanie Corley makes a delightful widow Glawari, a feisty Yorkshire lass who not only ensures that her fabulous wealth will pass to Pontevedro but also gets her man. He is less of a catch here, as William Dazeley portrays Count Danilo as a bit of a buffoon, low on rakish charisma but mostly sung with authority. Geoffrey Dolton makes an engaging Baron, Amy Freston is an effervescent Valencienne and Allan Clayton's passionate lyric tenor lifts the role of her lover, Camille, to a new level.
Conductor Wyn Davies brings out the detail in each of the operetta's colourful standards, scenes and finales, the orchestra particularly attractive in the shimmering accompaniment to an appropriately subtle "Vilja" song.
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