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The Merry Widow
(out of 4)
The show that opened at the Jane Mallett Theatre on Friday night is Franz Lehár’s 1905 smash-hit operetta, The Merry Widow. It is classic Austro-Hungarian comic fare that pokes fun at mercenary toffs and the conventions of a rigid class system.
The boilerplate romantic-comedy of how commitment-phobic Count Danilo finally connects with farm girl Anna Glawari (whose late first husband has left her rich and eminently eligible) left its first Viennese audience clamouring for more in 1905.
Toronto Operetta Theatre’s coup is in casting two excellent singing actors in those two principal roles.
There many fine supporting voices, and conductor Derek Bate does a decent job with the 13-piece orchestra arranged around the front edge of the stage.
Director Guillermo Silva-Marin, who is also responsible for the show’s design, has made a fine selection of period costumes, but the small, sparsely dressed stage turns claustrophobic with as many as 17 people milling or dancing around.
There is a lot of running to-and-fro that is probably meant to give the show a feeing of energy and movement. But the result is more frenetic than coherent.
Silva-Marin’s updates to the libretto, fully translated into English, are also problematic.
The main characters in the story are from the fictional central European principality of Pontevedro, transplanted into the gilded Paris of the turn of the 20th century. There is constant talk of counts and princes, but Silva-Marin has peppered the dialogue with comic references to 21st century subjects such as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, the crumbling Gardiner Expressway and Viagra.