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Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
The Merry Widow (1905)
Ballet adapted from the original operetta by John Lanchbery
Danced by The National Ballet of Canada with choreography by Ronald Hynd
Widow Hanna Glawari - Karen Kain
Count Danilo - John Meehan
Valencienne - Yoko Ichino
Camille - Raymond Smith
Baron Zeta - Charles Kirby
Njegus - Jacques Gorrissen
The National Ballet of Canada Orchestra/Ermanno Florio
rec. MacMillan Theatre of the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, 1987
PCM Stereo, Picture Format: 4.3, Region Code: 0
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 109129 [88:00]

The first thing to note is the date of this video recording – 1987, nearly thirty years ago. Since then technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. The registration and colour of this DVD leaves something to be desired but it is good enough to appreciate the ballet’s sumptuous sets and gorgeous costumes. The sets comprise a lavish ballroom, the garden scene with the pavilion for the tryst between Valencienne and Camille, and Maxim’s night spot. The costumes include folk dress, can-can frills and evening attire plus, for the ballroom scene, the most astonishingly beautiful gowns gathered up in the front but long and flowing behind with the most beautiful floral patterned hems that are shown to their full advantage in the swirl of the corps de ballet dances.

The ballet’s story-line is a simplified version of the original operetta book with emphasis on the two romances and some refinements - none so delightful as that dance given to the music for ‘Vilja’ in which Danilo dreams that he is with an early love again, a pretty peasant girl until her image is supplanted by that of Hanna Glawari. Both women pirouette around him until the girl leaves in favour of Hanna.

The dance of The Merry Widow is a successful fusion of classical ballet and slightly more modern expressions of heightened emotion and character. The romance between Hanna and Danilo is central and there are complications inherited from an earlier failed romance between them, she hurt but still fascinated, he proud and impulsive but also vulnerable. Kain is a beautiful, expressive Hanna but occasionally heavy-footed with difficult points. Meehan makes a dashing, debonair but smarting, easily hurt and vindictive Danilo. Meehan is amazingly supple and athletic in his springing steps and bounding jumps. I have to admit that I was attracted more by the beautiful dance partnership of Raymond Smith’s Camille and Yoko Ichino’s Valencienne. My eyes were drawn to them on their every appearance from the front of curtain story setting that is Act I in which Valencienne’s appearance in a very romantic negligee leaves no doubt as to her relationship with Camille to her final appearance as she walks off stage with Camille on one arm and her husband Baron Zeta on the other proving she could have her cake and eat it.

Charles Kirby’s Baron Zeta made up to incredibly closely resemble C, Aubrey Smith, the British character actor during Hollywood’s Golden Age and seen in such epics as The Prisoner of Zenda (the classic 1937 Ronald Colman version) and The Four Feathers (1939, with John Clements). As Zeta he is portrayed as a bumbling stumbling cuckolded old man.

A feast for the eye and a ballet that can stand on its own merits away from the well-loved operetta.

Ian Lace and Mary Whitton
Previous review (Blu-ray): Rob Maynard



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