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The Merry Widow

Franz Lehár 1870-1948

Operetta in three acts
Libretto by Victor Léon & Leo Stein after Henri Meilhac's comedy L’Attaché d’ambassade (1861)
First performed December 30 1905, Theater an der Wien, Vienna

Sung in German with English & German surtitles
ca. 2 hours 30 minutes, including 1 interval
an introductory talk, in German, begins in the upstairs foyer 30 minutes before every performance  

Act 1 Graf Danilo Danilowitsch and a tenant farmer's daughter Hanna were once a couple, in their homeland in the Balkans. The differences in their social standing caused problems – a rich uncle threatened him with disinheritance – and Danilo walked out on Hanna. They meet again: at a ball in the Pontevedrinian Embassy in Paris. Danilo now works as an attaché there and has found a home from home in Maxim's, a bar where the Grisettes dance. Hanna married the court banker Glawari, who died shortly afterwards, making her a very wealthy widow. The Ambassador, Mirko Zeta, is desperate to ensure that Hanna's fortune stays in his country, to prevent Pontevedro from being declared bankrupt. He orders Danilo to ensnare the millionairess. Danilo promises to get rid of the other marriage candidates: but refuses to ask for her hand in marriage himself. In the meantime Valencienne, Baron Zeta's wife, is being courted by Camille de Rosillon. She is clearly enamoured, but rejects his advances. Act 2 Hanna Glawari is throwing a party with a very Pontevedrinian flavour. She sings a song about the wood nymph Vilja. Rosillon continues pursuing Valencienne. They retire for a rendezvous in a pavilion, which Zeta has nominated as the meeting place for fellow diplomats to discuss their country's threatening bankruptcy. When the Baron finds the door to the pavilion locked he looks through the keyhole, and sees his wife and Camille. Njegus, the embassy's clerk, manages to smuggle Hanna into the pavilion through a back door, swapping places with Valencienne. Hanna uses this opportunity to drive Danilo crazy by announcing her, supposed, engagement to Camille. Act 3 To round off the evening Hanna, helped by Njegus, who organised everything, surprises Danilo with a performance by the Grisettes from Maxim's, during which Valencienne displays previously unknown talents. Hanna and Danilo waltz; music replacing their words. When Zeta realises that it really was his wife that he surprised in the pavilion with Camille, he demands an immediate divorce. He proposes to Hanna. She informs him that she will lose her fortune if she marries again. Now that no one can accuse him of only being after her money, Danilo professes his love for her. Hanna then reveals that she really will lose her millions, but only because they become her new husband's property. Valencienne persuades the Baron that she is innocent, by showing him the inscription in the fan she gave Camille: „I am a respectable woman.“

Samuel Beckett paid tribute to Lehár's 1905 global success in his play Happy Days (performed for the first time in 1960): Winnie, buried up to the waist, and later her neck, in a mound of earth had its hit »Lippen schweigen« on the tip of her tongue. Operetta is when one laughs, despite everything. Everyone wants to marry the wealthy widow Hanna Glawari or, better said, her millions – except one: Danilo, her childhood love. His snobbish rich uncle forced him to break off the relationship because she was poor, so he can't possibly propose to her because she really would think he only wanted her money! Chez Maxim's bar in Paris has become a second home to him. The ambassador of the poverty-stricken Balkan principality of Pontevedro in Paris, Baron Zeta, chooses Danilo, of all people, to woo the widow and save her fortune for the fatherland. After after three acts the pre-destined couple are finally united in a waltz. And the violins whisper, what Danilo can't say: »love me...«

After the early phase of so called »golden operetta« dominated by Jacques Offenbach and Johann Strauß came to an end, the Hungarian composer Franz Lehár started a new genre of operetta, with dance, the so called »silver period«.