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Profoundly Satisfactory

English National Opera's new production
of 'The Merry Widow'
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


English National Opera's new production of The Merry Widow was planned for Jude Kelly as director with a new version of the book by Sandi Toksvig and Dillie Keane; needless to say it was to be a contemporary updating. When Jude Kelly had to withdraw, you might have expected the ENO management to replace her with a young director in sympathy with the production ideas.

But operetta is a difficult form to get right, especially for the English -- just think of the strange end-of-the-pier transformation which overtook Laurent Pelly's La Belle Helene when it crossed the channel. ENO management seems to have opted for placing the production in a safe pair of hands. With veteran director John Copley they chose someone who could be relied upon to produce a well paced and well constructed ensemble production. But, of course, the updating was jettisoned and Copley set the piece in the early 1900s and used a translation by Jeremy Sams.

When the curtain went up we were presented with Tim Reed's attractive set based around a striking staircase (which re-occurred in slightly different configurations in the other acts); Deidre Clancy had provided the women with gowns à la Worth. In style, this was a very traditional production, but not slavishly so -- the general look and feel of stage was quite modern and clean, notwithstanding the acres of peach satin and pink tulle.

Amanda Roocroft as Hanna Glawari (centre) in English National Opera's 'The Merry Widow'. Photo © 2008 Clive Barda
Amanda Roocroft as Hanna Glawari (centre) in English National Opera's 'The Merry Widow'. Photo © 2008 Clive Barda

The Merry Widow has quite a large cast and a substantial amount of dialogue. Copley welded them into a fine ensemble cast and generally they paced the dialogue superbly. Tim Reed's designs, with many flexible screens, enabled the scenes to flow seamlessly and the cast gave a liveliness to the almost farce-like scenes, without overdoing it.

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Copyright © 3 May 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK


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