OPERA / All on her own, the Widow without tears: Edward Seckerson on a speechless, setless, motionless Merry Widow from Glyndebourne
Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson is Chief Classical Music and Opera Critic for The Independent. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen, in which he interviewed many of the most prominent writers and stars of musical theatre. He appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. On television, he has commentated a number of times at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has published books on Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and has been on Gramophone Magazine's review panel for many years. Edward presented the 2007 series of the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He has interviewed everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Liza Minelli; from Paul McCartney to Pavarotti: from Julie Andrews to Jessye Norman.
Tuesday 20 July 1993
At London's Royal Festival Hall you can enjoy Lehar's tunes without dialogue, without dancing, without sets. And it's bliss - the Widow without tears. Dirk Bogarde just happens to be on hand to keep us on track plot- wise ('How is your German, by the way? Never mind'). Tom Stoppard writes his material - very funny it is too. Actually, it's not really Dirk Bogarde at all. It's Njegus, Secretary at the Pontevedrian Embassy, and the operetta is not 'The Merry Widow' but something called 'The Confidential Secretary'. The Widow is incidental, you see, an irritation. Njegus saw it all: he was at the centre of it, it's his story. He tells us about the fan - 'remember the fan - it's rather like the handkerchief in Otello, except that Verdi makes everything sound much worse than it is . . .' He's wonderfully laconic and the timing is perfection. And he knows a thing or two about operetta: 'It's amazing what you can get away with if you put enough music round it.' Too right.
When it's not effervescing or high-stepping it, Lehar's music is written on a kind of illicit sigh. The spirit of the waltz is never very far away. But then the Merry Widow waltz is one of the world's great tunes and everything lyric in this lovely score has the same ache. Welser-Most and the LPO were well inside the style, leaping racily from the starting blocks in the prelude, immediately catching that heady amalgum of brashness and schmaltz, high living and sweet nostalgia. Welser-Most is not afraid of a little vulgarity in the mix, yet the fantasy of Lehar's scoring was touched in with white kid gloves.
'Vilja', another of the world's great tunes, comes caressed with whispering string glissandi and tinkling guitars. Our Widow, Felicity Lott - looking good for her money - sang it with luminous tone and melting portamento. Her Danilo, the impossibly good-looking Thomas Hampson, looked on, unable to conceal his adoration, though the plot had some way to run before he could reveal it. Hampson makes it all sound so easy: his perfect, idiomatic German, the way phrases pour off his vocal cords like honey. His big second-act 'Konigskinder' solo, chauvinism masquerading as fairy tale, was so strongly characterised, no translation was necessary. He and Lott looked as though they'd been treading the boards of the Theater an der Wien all their lives.
A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend
A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 3 World peace? These are the only 11 countries in the world that are actually free from conflict
- 4 Nicki Minaj 'Anaconda': Singer finally releases predictable video
- 5 James Foley 'beheading': Met police warn public watching murder video could be criminal offence
Laughs go global as Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran bring international comedians to the Edinburgh Fringe
The Top Ten: Horrible buildings
JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing 'Singing Sorceress' Celestina Warbuck
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Scottish Independence Referendum: Salmond described as 'arrogant, ambitious and dishonest' by Scottish women