Operetta in three acts by Franz Lehár
As life’s final curtain fell for such noted composers as Franz von Suppé and Johann Strauß at the end of the 19th century, it appeared the lights were also dimming on the age of the operetta. But in 1905, Franz Lehár’s impressive entry into the world of operettas, »The Merry Window«, unexpectedly gave rise to a second resurgence of the genre.
The reception given »The Merry Window«, in which a country’s very existence is threatened, is almost symbolic when considered against this background. Finality seems heralded by impending bankruptcy, but there has to be a way to avert ruin! Ultimately it comes down to the state of Pontevedro, whose pleasure-seeking envoys in Paris, with grand ingenuity and waltzes running through their veins, deeming it a mission to bolster the national coffers. What does one do when the water is up to one’s neck? The Pontevedrian ambassador Baron Zeta in Paris does what he does best: he hosts a reception. Both champagne and a crafty solution to the problem flows freely at the party. The lifeline for country and fatherland is within reach in the person of Hanna Glawari, a Pontevedrian widow and multi-millionaire. Zeta’s plan is to marry the young widow to his compatriot and Embassy Secretary Count Danilo, which would keep her millions in the country. But this plan is thwarted at almost every turn: is Glawari intending to marry a Parisian? The fortune would be lost forever. There does seem to be a frightening number of French dowry hunters clamouring for her attention. Never mind that the chosen bridegroom Danilo, who favours libations over work, is dead set against the plan. Strangely enough, there’s a palpable combativeness between the two. It’s a tricky situation, chicanery interspersed with deliberate confusion, and even further parties as festive as they may be won’t occasion any happy end. Is the small operetta nation now left to ruin? Have its citizens only surreptitiously dreamed about that which in reality has already been lost?
Perhaps the Pontevedrians should be more self-confident of their ability and ingenuity, put more trust in their own sense of humour and instincts, similar to their creators, the librettists Victor Léon and Leo Stein and their composer Franz Lehár. For how else could »The Merry Widow« have become such a world-renowned and celebrated success?
With his inexhaustibly lyrical ideas and the captivating orchestral hues, which change in ambience depending upon act, Lehár hit upon the sound and the pulse of his generation. The first act evinces the elegant sounds of Paris of the day with grand waltzes, the second act is filled with folklore in all its resplendent colours, and the third act wafts before us like musical fragrance underscoring the frivolously erotic atmosphere of Parisian night-spots. Even today, the freshness, joie de vivre and eroticism of the work still captivates, just as it prompted Felix Salten to express but a year after its premiere: «Lehár’s music burns with open, fiery sensuousness; it’s filled with sexual sensuality.» If this is what it’s like to face ruin, than Pontevedro need not worry ...