Opens Friday 1 March at 7.30pm (12 performances)
One of the most successful musical comedies in history returns to the London Coliseum stage in March, in a brand new version fizzing with wit and invention. Old Vic Associate Director Max Webster makes his ENO debut with the company’s first new staging in more than a decade of the beloved 1905 Viennese operetta. The original libretto that has delighted audiences across the world for more than century is given a new English translation by dramatist April de Angelis and lyricist Richard Thomas.
This operetta enjoyed unprecedented popularity and was performed an estimated half a million times across the world in its first 60 years. It acted as the bridge that would lead from opera to the rise of 20th century musical theatre. The story of the wealthy widow Hanna Glawari and her pursuit by men trying to keep her wealth in their bankrupt Balkan nation forms a classic romantic comedy, containing some of the most beloved music in opera including the Merry Widow Waltz and the ‘Vilja Song’.
Max Webster is Associate Director at the Old Vic, where his 2015 production of The Lorax garnered universal acclaim (‘the best family show since Matilda’ – 5*, The Guardian). His theatrical style with its ‘singular sense of the carnivalesque’ (WhatsonStage) is now brought to bear on the ENO comic opera tradition that brought Cal McCrystal’s standing-room-only Iolanthe to the Coliseum in 2018. He comments:
“I’m delighted to be working with ENO for the first time this season, especially on this wonderful 20th century operetta. The merry widow herself, Hanna Glawari, is one of the most popular creations in operatic history for a very good reason: she is a woman in control of her own destiny.
A female millionaire from humble origins, in many ways she represents the coming of the new century where women would fight for their freedom and the old, dusty, patriarchal world of the nineteenth century would begin to crumble.
I want to recreate that excitement of this, one of the forerunners of the modern musical and for many years the best night out across Europe, in the same joyful operetta tradition that has made ENO Gilbert and Sullivan productions so beloved by audiences.”
Hanna is sung by Sarah Tynan, one of the sopranos most associated with ENO, in her second lead role of the season after 2018’s rapturously received Lucia in Lucia di Lammemoor (‘exquisite’ – The Daily Telegraph). In 2017 her Rosina in The Barber of Seville (‘impeccable’– The Independent) and the title role of Partenope (‘dazzling’ – WhatsOnStage) showed her comic abilities to great effect. An alumna of the ENO Harewood Artist programme, she is fast becoming acknowledged as one of the UK’s leading sopranos.
Nathan Gunn makes his ENO debut as Hanna’s former lover Danilo. One of America’s most in-demand baritones, he has ‘everything that today’s opera fans look for in a singer: a beautiful voice, first-class acting and a great sense of humour’ (Bachtrack). He previously sang the role with the Metropolitan Opera, New York in 2014, opposite Renée Fleming.
ENO house favourite Andrew Shore sings the scheming diplomat Baron Zeta, adding another great buffo role to his ENO roster that has included hilarious turns as The Lord Chancellor in 2018’s Iolanthe (‘patter-perfect’ – WhatsonStage), Major-General Stanley in 2015’s The Pirates of Penzance, many Bartolos in The Barber of Seville, and more than thirty other productions.
The Baron’s wife Valencienne is sung by former ENO Harewood Artist Rhian Lois, returning after her ‘winning Susanna’ (The Times) in The Marriage of Figaro and her Governess in The Turn of the Screw in the 2017/18 season. Her French admirer Camille is sung by Robert Murray, whose Flute in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2018 and Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance in 2015 displayed his abilities as one of ENO’s great comic performers.
Nicholas Lester returns to the ENO stage following a successful run as Marcello in La bohème (‘oozes vocal charm’ - The Guardian) to sing the Vicomte Cascada, while Jamie MacDougall sings Raoul.
The other diplomats and their wives are sung by ENO Chorus members Paul Sheehan, Lydia Marchione, Adam Sullivan, Debbie Davison, Trevor Bowes and Natalie Herman. This continues an ENO practice of featuring Chorus members in secondary roles from the Studio Live programme (‘they take on the secondary roles with boundless skill and personality’ – The Stage).
The cast is completed by actor Gerard Carey in the non-singing role of Njegus, the Embassy secretary.
Estonian conductor Kristiina Poska makes her ENO debut with this production, as well as her debut with a UK opera company. She is known on the continent for her distinguished career at the Komische Oper Berlin where she was First Kapellmeister from 2011 to 2016, winning the Deutscher Dirigentenpreis in 2013. From the 2019/20 season she will be the Music Director at Theater Basel.
The new translation of the 1905 libretto features dialogue by April de Angelis and lyrics by Richard Thomas. April de Angelis is noted for her many plays centring on the female experience, including Playhouse Creatures, After Electra, Jumpy and The Village. Her libretti include Jonathan Dove’s Flight and The Day After, which was performed by ENO in 2017.
Richard Thomas garnered huge acclaim for his Jerry Springer: The Opera for which he won the Olivier Award for Best Musical Score in 2004, co-writing the lyrics with Stewart Lee. He wrote the libretto for Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole as well as the lyrics for the musical Made in Dagenham.
The ensemble of dancers is choreographed by Lizzi Gee, who previously provided the ‘gobsmacking’ (The New York Times) routines of 2018’s Iolanthe. Her 2018 credits include A Christmas Carol (Old Vic), Twelfth Night (Young Vic) and Little Shop of Horrors (Regent's Park Open Air Theatre).
Set design is by Ben Stones, who previously designed Max Webster’s Twelfth Night at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in 2014. This marks his operatic debut after designs for productions at the National, Young Vic, Almeida and Bush theatres as well as Burberry fashion shows.
Costume design is by Esther Bialas, whose designs were last seen at ENO for La traviata in 2018. She is known on the continent for her extensive work at Komische Oper Berlin with Barrie Kosky. Lighting design is by Bruno Poet, whose ENO work includes Akhnaten, Satyagraha and Aida.
The Merry Widow opens Friday 1 March at 7.30pm for 12 performances: 1, 6, 8, 9, 13, 15, 22, 27 and 29 March and 1 and 4 April at 7.30pm and 13 April at 3pm