Monday 7 May 2018

The Merry Widow

Wooing The Widow

Mr Pipistrello and I treated ourselves last week to the much-anticipated ballet The Merry Widow, and had ourselves a delightful night out at the Sydney Opera House. The music was joyful and everyone danced beautifully, of course. This frothy and home-grown staple of the Australian Ballet repertoire has been danced by all the Big Names* since 1975 and was long overdue for us to have seen it, so naturally we gussied up for the occasion.

The setting is Paris, 1905, thus the costumes and staging are Belle Époque lavish and gorgeous, with sumptuous fabrics, sparkling jewels, big hats and plenty of sweeping hemlines for the ladies and white tights, braided jackets and debonair moustaches for the gents. The storyline, an adaptation of the romantic operetta of the same name, hums along amusingly and is extremely light-hearted and completely preposterous.

Pontevedrian Partying

Read on for for some, ahem, antiquated social mores:

The bankrupt Grand Duchy of Pontevedro needs some fast cash to keep afloat. The Pontevedrian Ambassador to Paris, old Baron Zeta, is a firm devotee of the now-discredited trickle down theory of economics, but without any money left to prove it so to J.K. Galbreith, there is nothing to be done but drink the cellars dry of champagne and be grateful you have a gorgeous young wife, Valencienne. The first fun fact here is that lo! the nubile Valencienne is cuckolding him with the French Attaché to his Embassy, Count Camille.

Along comes a gorgeous and newly widowed compatriot Hanna, (we never know how her husband died but you can be sure he was old) and a plan is hatched to seize her monies for the state by marrying her to a fellow Pontevedrian diplomat, Count Danilo. It appears that fa! they are in fact "known" to each other and Danilo had sadly ditched her when she was poor, allegedly because of parental pressure. He's happy to fulfil his patriotic duty now that she's loaded, but of course Hanna isn't going to make it easy this time around.

Hanna throws a party, more champagne is drunk, everyone gets to have a dance, things get a bit out of hand and some wires get crossed and things start to look dire for the Pontevedrians. The men need to get out of their tights and don top hats and tails and the ladies to put on their best dresses and giant hats and troop down to Chez Maxim for the cancan girls and to drink some more champagne to the ignoble end of their mismanaged nation.

Helping To Forget Your Sorrows

Through the alcoholic haze it all comes right in the end. Somehow the Baron realises he's just an old duffer and it's perfectly okay for his wife to go off with the dashing Frenchman, so he gives them his blessing (and probably saves himself from some matrimonial "misadventure"). Luckily Hanna and Count Danilo finally get together too and dance off happily into the future, but you are left wondering if she realises that she's going to be economically bailing out her country ... hmmm, methinks the anticipated Financial Miracle might have a couple of future Complications. But it's not for me to get all Cassandra here; let's just agree it's a Happy Ending.

Maybe It's Best Not To Say

For our performance the principal dancers were Lana Jones and Ty King-Wall as Merrily-Widowed Hanna and Old Flame Count Danilo, and Benedicte Bemet and Christopher Rodgers-Wilson as Adulterous Valencienne and Her French Lover, Camille. The Cuckolded Ambassador Baron Zeta and his Secretary Njegus were played by veteran dancers, Stephen Heathcote and David McAllister. And fabulous they and all the dancers were!

* Dame Margot Fonteyn danced the rôle of Hanna in her late 50s!!

Haha, I'm 57!


  1. Magical writing and luscious depiction of one of my favourite ballets. I’m sure you looked delectable in the night as always.

    1. Hello V and thank you for saying so - I subscribe to the idea that if the dancers are going to frock up and look their best for you, it's only polite to make an effort too. I can see why this is a favourite of yours, it's terribly glamorous!

  2. I need to see this ballet!Right up my alley!
    Do you know I am 57 TOO?????
    Do you know I met DAME MARGOT FONTEYN!!!!!!!!!!
    In the dressing room of the San Francisco ballet school way back in the day......I have her AUTOGRAPH!

  3. Lucky you Contessa!! Framed, I hope!!

    There's a great photo I nearly used which was backstage after she danced this in NY in 1976 with Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Onassis and others mobbing her. The rôle of Hanna was choreographed with her age in mind so it doesn't have much jumping, just lots of pirouettes, etc. I read once that the reason she could dance for decades was her perfectly symmetrical body meant no stresses on her frame, so injuries were minimised. Even so, being, ahem, fellow 50-somethings puts her achievements into a Very Respectful Light!!



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