Opera productions are three parts passion, passion, and passion!
Passion for the libretto!
Passion for the music!
Passion for the theatre makers!
– Pollyanna Eyler
The plot for The Merry Widow (1905) libretto (or script) was born of the passion the librettists, Leo Stein (1861-1921) and Viktor Léon (1858-1940), had for the popular French play, L’attaché d’ambassade by Henri Meilhac (1861). They adapted the play to include a backstory between Hanna Glawari, the title character, The Merry Widow, and her former lover, Danilovitch, both citizens of the fictional country of Pontevedro. It has been a year since the young Hanna was widowed on her honeymoon (to her old rich husband). Now Hannah is free to follow her heart and marry the wealthy Danilovitch, (whose family previously rejected Hannah because of her former poverty). Meanwhile, Danilovitch has been drowning his sorrows at the Paris brothel, Maxim’s, with the Grisette Girls who can only offer fleeting passion. Yet, now that Hannah is wealthy there will be fierce competition for her love by the eager bachelors passionate for her and her millions. Passionate about their homeland, the Pontevedro Ambassador, Baron Merkel Zeta, throws a ball in Paris, France in hopes to match the merry widow to a Pontevedrian. The Baron wants to ensure that Hannah (a majority shareholder in Pontevedrian property) doesn’t marry a Frenchman, but keeps her amassed wealth in their homeland—many intrigues follow.
Which passions do The Merry Widow characters long for and what double standards do you note between the men and women as they pursue their passions?
Opera, Waltz, Dancehall, and Musical genres are all included in “The Merry Widow”
The music by Austrian-Hungarian composer, Franz Lehár (1870-1948), is solely credited for reinvigorating the public’s passion—ushering in the Silver Age of Operettas (1905-1930s). The librettists loved Lehar’s spin on the melodies, showcasing a wide variety of popular musical styles between opera, waltz, dancehall, and the newly evolving “musical.” The catchy tunes, such as “The Merry Widow Waltz” and “Vilja” were extremely popular (even before they were translated into English by Londoner, Adrian Ross, 1907). By the American premier (New York, 1907) there was already a parody produced, “I’d Like to Meet the Man Who Wrote the Merry Widow Waltz” (Bill Murray, 1907), in which Murray croons about the passion for the famous waltz!
The hall boy’s grown giddyand sashays with Biddyeach time that the hand-organs grind
That waltz has him going,insanity’s growing,he shouts like he’s losing his mind:
I’m looking for the man that wrote“The Merry Widow Waltz”
And if I fail to find him,it’s the greatest of my faults!
For when I think of Lizziehop-scotchin’ till she’s dizzy
I’m looking for the man that wrote“
The Merry Widow Waltz”
My favorite song in The Merry Widow is “Girls, Girls, Girls.” Yet this light-hearted poke at men’s misunderstanding of women is in direct contrast to the real-life respect Franz Lehár had for women and the sanctity of marriage. Lehár had not only a passion for music, but also for his wife, using the popularity of this opera to buy his Jewish wife safe passage during the Holocaust—sadly, something not even the librettists nor the original cast were granted.
What themes highlighted in this operetta are you passionate about?
Theatre makers are made up of producers, and performers of The Merry Widow, both past and present, represent the passion of millions of hours spent in their labors of love. In the first two years alone, this operetta was performed over 20,000 times and was translated into over 25 languages! Annually, it is estimated that The Merry Widow is performed over a thousand times in opera houses around the world. Brigham Young University (BYU) has performed operas and operetta’s for over a hundred years, including past performances of The Merry Widow. The current production’s libretto was performed in 1997 and is an adaptation by former BYU professor, with translation help by his wife, Jean Vincent.
This present production’s director, conductor, stage managers, designers, musicians, cast and crew are proud to take part in this last opera within the Harrison Fine Arts building before ushering in future productions in the new Music Building (2023) that will continue to showcase their passion for the arts! We’re grateful to you, our audience, for attending this performance.
What’s your favorite memory in the HFAC? View other’s and post yours here: https://cfac.byu.edu/hfac-memories
The Merry Widow
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