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It helped, of course, that Baron Zeta was played by Richard Suart, veteran of many G & S performances and his major domo, Njegus, by veteran actor Roy Hudd (making his operatic début). Hudd was remarkable in that he lent Njegus a mischievous, knowing air without ever overshadowing the other members of the cast. He even managed to get to sing as Copley included an Act 3 comedy number for Njegus which was added for the 1907 London production of the operetta.

It was, I think, a mistake to give Saint Brioche and Cascada (Daniel Hoadley and Hal Cazalet) cod French accents; the remainder of the production took the work quite seriously leaving Saint Brioche and Cascade seeming as if they had wandered in from another production. The remainder of the ensemble was strongly cast from young singers.

Fiona Murphy made an attractive Valencienne, perhaps a little too sophisticated for an ex-grisette. As her lover, Alfie Boe made a welcome return to the London operatic stage (wiping out memories of last year's Kismet). Boe made a charming Camille du Rousillon, easily convincing us of the character's slightly feckless appeal, as well as producing some lovely velvet vocal tones.

Fiona Murphy as Valencienne and Alfie Boe as Camille de Rosillon in English National Opera's 'The Merry Widow'. Photo © 2008 Clive Barda
Fiona Murphy as Valencienne and Alfie Boe as Camille de Rosillon in English National Opera's 'The Merry Widow'. Photo © 2008 Clive Barda

Lehár makes his two lead characters appear quite late in Act 1, leaving it to the ensemble to make their impact. Dramatically Hanna Glawari's first entrance, atop the staircase surrounded by men, was perfect. Unfortunately things were not so satisfactory musically. Amanda Roocroft sang her opening number quite lightly and Olivier von Dohnanyi in the pit seemed to rather relish Lehár's rich orchestration, keeping the orchestra at rather too high a level.

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Copyright © 3 May 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK

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