The Merry Widow, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

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The Independent Culture

This wouldn't matter, of course, if the "version" were genuinely, in all respects, vibrant. But vocally it's one of the weakest performances I can remember from WNO. Once one has routinely praised the chorus work and the sparkling orchestral playing under Michal Klausa, one has more or less said it all. Of the cast, by some way the most memorable is Geoffrey Dolton's crazed Njegus, the Pontevedran embassy clerk who manipulates the Feydeauesque goings-on in the "kleine Pavillon", but hardly has a note to sing. For the rest, there are decent vignettes by Donald Maxwell (Zeta) and Linda Ormiston (Praskowia).

The widow herself, the once brilliant and indisputably merry Lesley Garrett, is spectacularly kitted out in white and silver by the costume designer Agostino Cavalca, but seems to have left significant parts of her voice in the TV studio. The talented Ailish Tynan sings Valencienne as if the open spaces of the Millennium Centre were as much of a threat as being caught in flagrante delicto with her spindly Beerbohmish lover Camille (Tracey Wellborn), himself, alas, often barely audible. As for Jeffrey Black's Danilo, it's a case of suave insouciance barely concealing not just passion but a dangerous shortage of voice.

Luckily, a good staging can survive its first cast, and this one will surely do that. Not content with recreating the Paris of everyone's dreams, it has a witty go at the Pontevedro of one's nightmares: the dreadful embassy (with, one can imagine, the grim visa section next door), the fake nostalgia for peasant izbas and dirndls, lampooned in the "slide show" with which Hanna regales her guests at the party. The whole affair is beautifully designed by Cavalca and Christian Fenouillat. What's needed now is a cast to match.

To 8 October, then touring (www.wno.org.uk)

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