REVIEW: Lyric Opera’s “The Merry Widow”

 Shopping around for a second husband can be so much fun!


The Lyric Opera of Chicago presents:

The Merry Widow

Libretto by Viktor León and Leon Stein
Based on Henri Meilhac’s comedy “L’attache’ d’ambassade”
English lyrics and dialogue by Sheldon Harnick
Conducted by Emmanuel Villaume
Stage directed by Gary Griffin
Thru January 16th 

Review by Katy Walsh

mw9 Boy loves girl. Family won’t let him marry her because she’s penniless. She marries another and becomes a wealthy widow. Boy still loves girl. Now, his country wants him to  marry her because she has 20 million francs. Girl loves boy but fears he loves her for her money. Add in a cheating wife, French lover, overbearing Baron and dancing girls and the results are the Lyric Opera of Chicago presents The Merry Widow. Originally produced in German in 1905, The Merry Widow is sung in English as an operetta in three acts.

Arguably, an operetta basically stands for “opera lite.” Tastes great, less filling. With its origins in the 1800’s, an operetta introduced a less dramatic version of opera to audiences. Utilizing comedy, simpler plots and happier tunes, the operetta became the precursor to contemporary musicals. For diehard opera fans, an operetta is like drinking Miller Lite when you prefer a Guinness. For opera newbies, an operetta is like sipping your first beer to acquire a taste for hops. For all, The Merry Widow is a lively romantic comedy presented with all the grandeur and majesty as is the Lyric Opera hallmark.


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Unlike most traditional operas, The Merry Widow has segments of spoken dialogue, dancing sequences and informal familiarity. Breaking the fourth wall, Roger Honeywell (Count Danilo Danilovich) emphasizes a joke by guffawing with the audience. Honeywell, along with Jeff Dumas (Njegus) and Dale Travis (Baron Mirko Zeta), set the playful mood with physical comedy. A particularly fun musical dance number, “Every Woman,” has several of the male cast members commiserating on how difficult women are. Later, it’s the ladies’ turn with dance hall girls performing the Can-Can, a line dance complete with pulled up skirts and leg shaking. Elizabeth Futral (Hanna Glawari) has the vibrant presence to carry the main title The Merry Widow. Although she captivates the audience with her soprano precision, there are moments for her and Honeywell where vocal subtlety is overwhelmed by the orchestra.

From the moment the curtain rises, the audience is treated to spectacular sets (Daniel Ostling). The first act is built around a magnificent staircase, several stories high. Later the scene at Maxim’s features a moving stage on stage within a bi-level dance hall. The costumes (David Burke and Mara Blumenfeld) range from early 1900 elegant aristocrat to vibrant gawdy Can-Can dancer. Visually appealing and lighthearted amusing, this production shows how much fun shopping around for a second husband can be.


Rating: ★★★½







ASIDE: An opera newbie, Bill describes the show as “an opera that you won’t fall asleep to.”


New this year to the Lyric Opera is the Florian Opera Bistro. Located on the third floor, the casual bistro is only available for patrons with tickets to the performance. With the Lyric Opera’s strict “no late seating” policy, the café is ideal to ensure an efficient pre-show nosh. The walls are adorned with pictures of past opera productions to set the mood for your Lyric experience. The menu is simple with soups, salads, sandwiches, tarts and desserts. We sip on a nice Malbec as we wait for our food to arrive. Forty minutes later, as the crowd thins out, we flag down our server, Alex, to inquire about the delay. He lets us know that there was a problem with the computer (server code for “I forgot to order your meals”). Despite that speed bump, it’s a tasty light meal and a less expensive alternative to downtown restaurants. A bottle of wine, tart and sandwich with 20% tip (eh, mistakes happen!), $77. Being in our seats as the curtain rises, priceless!

The Merry Widow has a running time of three hours with two twenty-five minute intermissions. To avoid the long bar lines, we pre-order two glasses of wine at the end of the first intermission for the second. Kevin, stationed at bar #3 on the main floor, ensures our drinks are ready for pick-up. Perched on the first landing just above the main floor, we have the perfect locale for people watching. It’s an eclectic Saturday crowd with a broad spectrum of attire. Tuxes, suits, jeans, sneakers for the men… with two gentlemen clad in colorful Scandinavian jackets. The ladies are less imaginative with many in the uniform LBD (little black dress) and some possibly getting a second wear out of a bridesmaid’s dress. Fur coats are everywhere! Because another strict policy at the Lyric is fur coats cannot be coat checked. Whether it’s real or fake, your fur is your responsibility at the Lyric. Having a bit of mink envy, watching ladies lug around their pricy coats does make me a little merry!


Stars of the Show

Hanna Glawari

Elizabeth Futral

Elizabeth Futral


Roger Honeywell

Roger Honeywell


Stephen Costello

Stephen Costello

3 Responses

  1. […] Check out the rest of the review at Chicago Theater Blog  […]

  2. […] own Sheldon Harnick! The last two performances will be Thurs 1/14/10 & Sat 1/16/10. Click HERE for full review. Click HERE to order […]

  3. […] Opera of Chicago as Kuligin in Kát’a Kabanová and also sang Cascada in The Merry Widow. (our review […]

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