The Merry Widow, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

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The Independent Culture

The first night audience was dominated by those who could - and did - hum every note of Léhar's Viennese trifle. They cooed contentedly whenever Garrett appeared, and gave off a warm, malty glow like several hundred mugs of Horlicks. How I envied them their happiness. For directors whose reputations were built on tight, glamorous comedies, Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser's period production is unaccountably drab of appearance, low on laughs, and devoid of sexiness. Like sportsmen, opera singers rarely impress when they're talking, and despite Jeremy Sams's witty translation, the spoken dialogue was as seductive as varicose veins. Caesurae stretched to infinity like Hollywood sunsets, cues were dropped like paper wrapping on Christmas morning. Then, every 20 minutes or so, the band struck up, Ms Garrett clicked her fan, the hummers cleared their throats, and off we waltzed again.

Garrett (Hanna Glawari) excepted, the singing is of poor quality. Geoffrey Dolton (Njegus) excepted, the acting is atrocious. Michal Klauza's conducting, meanwhile, has all the élan of a tepid electric blanket. I assume that Caurier and Leiser were sexing things up by hanging Egon Schiele's jaded paintings of his nude sister on the velvet walls of Maxim's pleasure palace. In fact, they cast a morbid, venereal pall over the belated consummation of Hanna's autumn romance, and the feather headresses and saucy petticoats of the half-dozen can-can dancers were more effective. Thus, while Garrett played to the grey-pound gallery, six chorus girls and a slapstick gofer stole the show.

Were The Merry Widow a blind date, I'd have run to the loo, called a friend, and arranged to be phoned with the news that my Great Aunt Billie had been rushed to hospital and was calling my name with her last breath. Alas, Great Aunt Billie passed on several decades ago and the phone call never came. Instead, I sat in a stew of depression for 210 long minutes while vowing never again to attend operettas unless in France; where, as Mark Minkowski and Felicity Lott have shown, they take light music more seriously.

Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (0131 529 6000), from Weds, then touring

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