Sunday, March 4, 2012

"The merry widow" - Grahamless and joyless

Die lustige Witwe/La veuve joyeuse, Opéra Garnier in Paris, March 2 2012

Asher Fisch    ..... Conductor
Jorge Lavelli ..... Director

Harald Serafin  .....  Baron Mirko Zeta
Ana Maria Labin  ..... Valencienne
Bo Skovhus  ..... Graf Danilo
Susan Graham Noëmi Nadelmann ..... Hanna Glawari
Daniel Behle  ..... Camille de Rosillon
Edwin Crossley-Mercer  .....  Vicomte Cascada
François Piolino  ..... Raoul de Saint-Brioche
Francis Bouyer  ..... Bogdanowitsch
Claudia Galli  ..... Sylviane
Francis Dudziak  ..... Kromow
Andrea Hill  ..... Olga
Fabrice Dalis  ..... Pritschitsch
Michèle Lagrange  ..... Praskowia
Franz Mazura .....  Njegus

Paris Opera Orchestra and Chorus

Here is an exception to the rule of quality of the shows presented at the Paris Opera. An empirically derived rule is that all the new productions presented at the Paris Opera  since the fall of 2009 are either moderately bad or downright dreadful, while the revivals are mostly good and sometimes excellent. This operette is unfortunately not the exception you would like to have in an otherwise overrated and overpriced Opéra de Paris. In short, the show I could see in this run of the revival of Die lustige Witwe was plain bad.

Too much of pointless cheesiness of this production that was premiered in 1997 is not a major surprise. The incongruent scenic solutions reflecting the director's misunderstanding of this lively and  moderately funny libretto were apparently not too insulting to the crowd gathered in the packed auditorium of the Opéra Garnier (and I believe this is not surprising either.)
What was truly surprising was the underwhelming cast and the speedy conductor.

Let me briefly explain what I meant by this. If you have a cheesy and unintelligent production of this work to begin with, then the only formula that might make the show work is to rely on the dynamics among actors who should be very good singers as well. Hanna Glawari in particular must be incarnated by a singer-persona who can sing, be glamorous when needed and sometimes grotesque but never buffoonish.

I went to see the show propelled by my curiosity and hope that Susan Graham would find a way to sculpt Hanna Glawari both vocally and scenically in her own way and make the theatrical and musical magic work. It was supposed to be her role debut (in German!), the lineup of other singers looked promising too, it was a revival -- I thought it could not be bad!

And so, just when the curtains were about to go up, an ominous silence, and a woman from the direction of the Paris Opera appeared on the stage to tell us that Susan Graham was ill and had to cancel the Friday show. Instead, a girl --whose name that same woman could not pronounce (sic!)-- agreed to step in and sing the role.  Only hours after the show we understood the replacement was  Noëmi Nadelmann. She obviously did not rehearse enough and since the timings are essential for this comedy to take off, the show looked tired from the outset and all the dancing and stuff only made it look messy and pointless.

While we did not have problems hearing the dialogs, the singing was nearly impossible to decipher from the overwhelming orchestral sounds that were constantly covering the singers. Only occasionally would Bo Skovhus and Noëmi Nadelmann manage to sing a few clearly audible verses. Otherwise only an "Aaaaahhhh" would cut through the orchestra. Particularly difficult was the famous Vilja Lied that Noëmi sang the best she could, but Asher Fisch would drown her as soon as she would get to her comfort zone (which is the upper register of her voice).

All the second roles were held by the singers I like --including Daniel Behle, Edwin Crossley-Mercer, François Piolino, Andrea Hill, Francis Dudziak-- but sadly this was not a configuration that would help highlighting their great talent.

Karita Mattila used to sing the role of Hanna Glawari in this production and made it one of her huge successes in Paris. There are several video clips on YT from this same show, of which I thought the most interesting is the one containing the Karita's rendition of the Vilja Lied [it comes after 3 minutes of incomprehensible dancing]:

Another well known aria from this operette to check out is Lippen Schweigen (both arias particularly slow):

I didn't take any photo as I left before the curtain calls...


  1. It was not supposed to be Susan Graham's role debut - I saw her sing Hannah G. at the Met in January 2004 (with Bo Skovhus) and she was excellent (even the floated B (or Bflat?) at the end of the Viljalied).


  2. Thanks Ricky! I see she sang the role in LA too. My bad.
    It's her European role debut then :)

  3. Surely to the name of goodness, it would have been common sense to have an understudy for a twelve-performance production, instead of having to run around the world looking for a "replacement Widow" at the last minute. Naturally the other artists' schedules have already been drawn up and "windows" of availability can be hard to find. Nevertheless, I have every intention of attending the last performance, by which time all these setbacks and wrinkles will have hopefully been ironed out. This is a classic or standard set for the Merry Widow and should pose no stage problems. However, there is always someone fiddling and tinkering with what was perfectly fine the last time, and the "incongruent scenic solutions" you mention make me think of a remark made by a friend who is a conductor: "When I started out", he said, "the stage director did not even get his name on the programme!"
    Let us hope Ms Graham's laryngotracheitis will disappear soon or that Garnier will be more successful in its research for a substitute.
    No matter what happens, I'm going to attend, because, like you, I admire many of the second roles.

    1. Ms Graham came back last night and everyone seemed pleased.

  4. Thanks for that news!

    Hope your show will look and sound much better than mine did.

    1. Many thanks for your wishes. I shall attempt to remember to tell you how it goes.