When Robert Helpmann conceived this version of The Merry Widow for The Australian Ballet in 1975, he created the jewel in the crown of the Company’s repertoire, an enduring and popular work which has become a modern classic.
The company toured The Merry Widow through the United States in 1976, with Margot Fonteyn as guest artist in the role of Hanna, and though the ballet has been revived several times by the company since then, this particular revival is part of Artistic Director, David McAllister’s 2018 program celebrating works created for the company. Indeed McAllister himself first danced in this ballet in 1985, and will perform the role of Njegus in Canberra during this season.
Set in Paris during the Belle Époque, with gorgeous Art Nouveau settings and costumes by Desmond Heeley, and a lush score devised by John Lanchbery from Franz Lehar’s music for the operetta of the same name, The Merry Widow depicts the conniving’s of members of the Pontevedrian Embassy to marry off its wealthiest citizen, Hanna Glawari, to a compatriot in an effort to save the country from bankruptcy.
The revelation that the intended match, the dashing Count Danilo, once broke Hanna’s heart puts the cat among the pigeons and joyful mayhem ensues in a succession of delightful plot twists.
In a thrilling star performance, Lana Jones transcended technique to create an elegant, glamorous Hanna Glawari, dancing with impeccable phrasing, and imbuing her acting with just the right touch of wry humour to captivate her audience and her dashing Danilo, Adam Bull, wonderfully funny in his attempts to resist his inevitable seduction.
Real-life husband and wife, Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo, delighted as the young wife and her suitor who are constantly thwarted in their efforts to engage in an adulterous affair. It was a particular joy to see eighty-three-year-old, Colin Peasley, still stealing belly-laughs, or being heartbreakingly poignant as the cuckolded Baron Mirko Zeta in the role he created in the original production in 1975.
The obvious care with which this production has been remounted was evident in the precision of the dancing of the many spectacular ensemble dances, and the relish with which the many cameo roles were interpreted among which Franco Leo (Njegus), Brett Simon (Kromow) Brodie James (Pritschitsch), Marcus Morelli (Pontevedrian Dancer) and Luke Marchant (Maître d’) were standouts.
Adding icing to this delicious concoction was the performance of John Lanchbery’s intoxicating score which has rarely sounded better than as performed on this occasion by Orchestra Victoria under the exuberant baton of Simon Thew. She may be in her forties, but at her 427 performance, The Merry Widow is carrying her age well.
The Merry Widow
Canberra Theatre – Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Friday 25 May 2018 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 30 May 2018
State Theatre – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St. Kilda Road, Melbourne
Season: 7 – 16 June 2018
For more information, visit: www.australianballet.com.au for details.
Image: Lana Jones and artists of The Australian Ballet in The Merry Widow – photo by Daniel Boud
Review: Bill Stephens OAM