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It is neither possible nor desirable to sing Lehár like Richard Strauss (or even Wagner), and Dohnanyi seemed to forget this. So that for much of the performance, balance favoured the pit. (We sat at the front of the Upper Circle.)

That said, Roocroft made a musical and attractive Hanna, with a nice line in down-to-earth humour in the dialogue. This Merry Widow was very much about class and Roocroft made quite a believable gold-digger made good.

As Danilo, John Graham-Hall scored a notable success. Graham-Hall has developed into a fine character tenor and is not obvious casting in the role of Danilo. I have always been used to the role being sung by a baritone, but evidently the first Danilo was a light tenor. Graham-Hall does not have the plush burnished voice that might be desirable in the role, instead furnishing the character with fallibility and fecklessness which, combined with a sort of tired sexual magnetism, created a very believable person.

John Graham-Hall as Count Danilo Danilowitsch in English National Opera's 'The Merry Widow'. Photo © 2008 Clive Barda
John Graham-Hall as Count Danilo Danilowitsch in English National Opera's 'The Merry Widow'. Photo © 2008 Clive Barda

By the end of Act 1 we had experienced a lively attractive and well put together production, but one which never achieved any sort of emotional kick. It was only in Act 2 when the farce starts to turn a little dangerous and when Lehár gives his principals music of some sort of emotional power that we started to feel for the characters. Boe and Murphy managed to wring our hearts with their duet, beautifully sung; similarly Roocroft and Graham-Hall kept us on the edge of our seats as they went through the 'will they / won't they' rigours of the plot. Graham-Hall was particularly moving in his final monologue at the end of Act 2.

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Copyright © 3 May 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK

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