Be merry, musical is played entirely for escapist pleasure

The Merry Widow is fun and frothy
The Merry Widow is fun and frothy

Should you be in a certain frame of mind, you could find all sorts of contemporary issues with which to burden Opera North’s latest offering: Lehar’s, The Merry Widow.

I am happy to report that social commentary is not the route that director Giles Havergal has gone down. As it should be, this memento of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is played entirely for escapist pleasure. The front cover of the programme makes this explicit featuring an alluring lady drinking a glass of champagne: we know an evening of froth and sparkle lies ahead.

The curtain rises on a swirl of colour from the ladies of the chorus while the men sport uniforms redolent of Rupert of Hentzau. If you ever wonder why opera is so expensive to stage, here is the answer.

The Widow herself, sung by Maire Flavin, is newly mega-rich on the death of her banker husband of eight days. Indeed, she is so loaded that were she to remarry and take her money out of Pontevedra, the country would be bankrupt.

Flavin, known to Opera North audiences from her portrayal of Fiordiligi in 2016’s Cosi fan Tutti, sparkled her way through the whole show, both with her singing and her gaudy costumes.

Another Opera North regular, Quirijn de Lang, plays Danilo, a former lover of the Widow, but a broken man who thought he had lost his love.

Now he feels he cannot admit to any affection in case she thinks he is after her money.

Once again, de Lang manages to look the part of the distracted paramour while applying his fine baritone voice to a score that is well within his range.

Paralleling Danilo’s and the Widow’s progress is the rather more muted love affair between the married Valencienne (the delightful Amy Freston) and Camille de Rossillon (Nicholas Watts).

The Merry Widow is at Leeds Grand Theatre until October 12.