The role she was singing was designed to show off the talents of a mature diva. She plays Hanna, a wealthy and beguiling widow, who has her choice of fawning suitors, in gay Paree at the turn of the 20th century. Instead of being simpering or demanding, Ms. Fleming plays Hanna as gracious but slightly cynical, openly declaring that she knows her biggest attraction is her wealth. And her suitors love her all the more, they say, for her frankness.
Ms. Fleming gets to wear three marvelous costumes, all requiring corsets (when they first came on the market, a certain revealing type of corset was named for this popular operetta). As a widow, she starts out in a black gown with stylish gores.
|The mourning gown|
All photos in this post are internet grabs.
|The Pontevedran gown|
|The Maxim's gown|
Ms. Fleming sings a duet with Kelli O'Hara
|Nathan Gunn as Count Danilo|
|Member of the Met chorus dancing and singing|
One thing that is unusual for the Metropolitan Opera is spoken dialog. Some operas are sung all the way through, but usually there is a certain amount of vaguely melodic dialog. An operetta, however, depends on spoken banter between the musical numbers. It seemed odd at first, but the cast moved between speaking and singing so easily that I soon accepted it. Although Ms. Stroman loves the big production numbers, she was also very interested in presenting a romance between seasoned lovers, and she directed their spoken scenes with more concern for creating convincing and sympathetic characters than is usual for an opera. This is a feature where Live in HD may actually trump the live performance at the opera house. The Met stage is huge, and intimate banter could get lost, for those in the balcony, for instance, but the HD filming allows for close-up shots.
The aspect that won my heart from the beginning was that the opera was done in English! I couldn't resist reading the English subtitles, but I loved hearing my language sung. Not only was it in English, but the English had funny rhymes ("being sycophantic is not terribly romantic"), alliteration, and other poetic devices. The audience was cracking up and nudging each other. Jeremy Sams gets credit for the English version.
The main plot is about the effort of Baron Zeta to get Hanna to marry someone from her native Pontevedro, in order to keep her fortune in the country, which is facing dissolution otherwise. The Baron was played by veteran baritone Thomas Allen. Zeta is sort of a patriotic buffoon, but Allen's face is remarkably intelligent.
The subplot concerns Baron Zeta's relationship with his much younger wife,Valencienne, who carries on a flirtation with the young Frenchman Rosillon, under the guise of winning his support for her small country. All the other characters are concerned with helping her keep the romance secret from from the deluded baron, and saving their marriage. The role of Valencienne, which requires tricky singing and dancing, was played by Kelli O'Hara, who was trained in opera, but has previously been seen only on Broadway, where she is very popular. The role of Rosillon was played by tenor Alek Shrader; sometimes his performance seemed a little detached, but he was great at devotedly nuzzling Valencienne's neck.
|Kelli O'Hara and Alek Shrader|
If you are a novice to opera, but intrigued, The Merry Widow would be the perfect place to start. It's so easy to like. It is frivolous, but refined. It is popular and sentimental, while being sophisticated and subtle. You come away feeling as merry as a wealthy widow who finally got her way.
If you should feel drawn to The Merry Widow, the opera is being re-broadcast, Wednesday, January 21 at 6:30 at your local cinema. Running time is 3 hours, and the cost is $18, for all ages.