The Catholic University of America

Nov. 9, 2012

The Merry Widow Operetta Set for Nov. 15 to 18

The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music presents The Merry Widow, the famous operetta by Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár, at the Ward Recital Hall, Nov. 15 to 18.

Show dates and times are Nov. 15 to 17 at 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for general admission, $15 for CUA alumni, and $10 for seniors, students, faculty, and staff, and can be purchased online at http://music.cua.edu. Call 202-319-5416 for more information.

“We have a cast of mostly undergraduate singers and many freshmen,” said Sharon Christman, professor and head of the voice division. “We are proud of each and every one of them. Along with a few of the leads who are graduate students, we have included much dancing – folk and waltz – to bring out every facet of this intriguing and beautiful operetta.”

As music director Katerina Souvorova explains, The Merry Widow has quite a history. Originally titled Die Lustige Witwe, The Merry Widow was written in 1905 by Lehár and premiered in Vienna in the famous Theater an der Wien. The libretto by Viktor Léon and Leo Stein is based on the play L’attaché d’ambassade by Henri Meilhac.

The operetta is set in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. At the embassy of the fictional country Marsovia, everyone awaits the arrival of Hanna Glawari, a wealthy widow whose husband died during their honeymoon, leaving her 20 million francs.

The Marsovian ambassador, Baron Zeta, plans to introduce Hanna to a few native bachelors, hoping that, if she chooses one, her money will stay in Marsovia, thereby saving the country from bankruptcy.

At the party, the rich widow meets a man she was in love with many years before. Prince Danilo, whose family rejected Hanna as being a poor match for him, now is disappointed in life and spends all his time at a cabaret.

Hanna and Danilo are still in love, but do not want to admit it to each other. Intrigues and love affairs blossom right and left at the party. When Hanna announces that according to her late husband’s will she will lose her fortune if she remarries, offers of marriage slip away — and Prince Danilo finds himself without rivals.

Lehár was not the first choice for a composer of The Merry Widow, says Souvorova. However, when Lehár presented a manuscript of the duet “Silly, silly cavalier,” composed in just a few hours, there were no doubts that he would finish the job, she adds.

“A few months later, the composer presented a complete score, which was destined to become one of the most incredible, often performed miracles of the 20th century,” says Souvorova.

The process of preparing The Merry Widow for an opening in Vienna in 1905 was difficult and almost resulted in failure, she says. In spite of the fact that Vienna was then one of the largest political and cultural centers of Europe, the theater where the operetta was being rehearsed was in financial trouble. The cast, including the two main leads for characters Hanna and Prince Danilo, had to buy their own costumes.

The theater manager was not impressed by Lehár’s music, said Souvorova, so he offered the composer 5,000 crowns to shut down the production. In the end, though, the enthusiasm for Lehár’s composition and his cast paid off. “The premiere was a huge success,” she says. “The melodies from the operetta were heard from every corner of Vienna.”

During the next few years, The Merry Widow was performed in cities throughout Europe and in Russia.
In 1907, The Merry Widow opened in New York. The now famous Merry Widow Waltz and aria Vilja were well known at the time. There was even a popular “Merry Widow” corset in women’s fashion and a famous “Merry Widow” cocktail, consisting of gin, vermouth, and lemon twist.

More recently, Lehár’s operetta has been performed by the leading opera companies of New York City.

“It keeps on its triumphal waltzing throughout the world,” says Souvorova. “And it is one of the most successful and popular theatrical sensations of the last century.”
 

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