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Enjoy Yvonne Kenny's rendition of "Love Unspoken" from Act III.
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San Francisco Opera
Austrian National Tourist Office: Franz Lehár
The Merry Widow Centenary
The Guide to Light Opera and Operetta: Franz Lehár
Bach Cantatas Website: Performers: Yvonne Kenny
Sony Classical: Bo Skovhus
Sony Classical: Angelika Kirchschlager
ARIA: Gregory Turay
Lotfi Mansouri - Opera in Action
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra: Conductors: Erich Kunzel


By Fred Plotkin

Although Viennese operetta as exemplified by "Die Fledermaus" and other works by Johann Strauss, Jr. is primarily a 19th-century art form, certain works were actually written in the early 20th century in the declining days of the rule of the Hapsburgs in Vienna, which ended with World War I.

Operetta in its heyday in Vienna was a combination of sentimentality and naughty fun. Lovers would have spats and then enter flirtations with other people before, usually, returning to their original partners. In the meantime, there would be party scenes; lots of champagne, food, and dancing; and funny subplots of mistaken identity.

To understand and appreciate operetta -- and for it to be performed correctly -- the most important thing to embrace is the mood and spirit of the form. All of the characters pursue pleasure in one way or another, and the comedic conflicts that arise are the result of these pursuits colliding in humorous ways.

One of the last great operettas was Franz Lehár's "The Merry Widow" (1905), which combines all the requisite elements: beautiful and danceable music, the air of romance, and sentimental feelings to which most audience members might connect. "The Merry Widow" has the added attraction of being set in Paris (though the characters mostly hail from an invented central European duchy called Pontevedria). The Parisian setting allows Viennese-type charm and naughtiness to come face to face with Parisian variety. So one can see and hear Slavic folk dancing in one scene and then a ripping Parisian can-can in another.

The story is really quite simple. Anna Glawari (Yvonne Kenny) is a wealthy widow from Pontevedria who lives in Paris. Her nation is in financial straits and Count Danilo (Bo Skovhus), a suave diplomat, is sent to encourage her to help her country, which she could best do if she married him and brought her money home. Anna knows, but does not say, that if she marries she will be forced to give up her money, and romantic complications ensue because Danilo has an eye for Parisian can-can girls. What we discover is that Anna actually loves Danilo, and we wait for him to come to this realization. Another important character is Camille de Rosillon (Gregory Turay), a young noble Frenchman who is in love with Valencienne (Angelika Kirchschlager), the Pontevedrian ambassador's wife, but feigns a courtship of Anna. Ultimately Danilo and Anna agree to marry when she is certain he loves her. At that point, she reveals that, yes, she will lose her fortune, but it will go to the man who wins her hand.

Top banner photos: Anna Glawari (Yvonne Kenny), the Merry Widow, with Camille de Rosillon (Gregory Turay) from Act I; and Anna Glawari (Kenny) from Act II and III.

From Act II, the garden of Anna Glawari's house.

The setting for Act II of the operetta, the garden of Anna Glawari's house in Paris.

Camille de Rosillon (Gregory Turay).

In the role of Camille de Rosillon, one of the Merry Widow's would-be suitors, is American tenor Gregory Turay.

Celebrating 30 Years: Opera programs became a regular feature on the series starting in 1975 with the broadcast of "Pagliacci."
T1 56K Celebrating 30 Years of Great Performances