For yesterday’s cinematic broadcast, the Met presented what they described as a mix of opera and Broadway. Their production of the Austro-Hungarian operetta The Merry Widow was directed by big Broadway director Susan Stroman, had as its two leading ladies Renee Fleming and Broadway singer Kelli O’Hara, and was peformed in English. But after the more straightforward productions of Figaro and Der Meistersinger transmitted earlier this season were such disappointments, I, for one, was hoping the Met broadening its horizons a little might produce something better.
By the end of the first act I was on the verge of despair. The Merry Widow proves a silly farce, not nearly as funny as it thinks it it, and I suspect the English translation made it cornier. Not to mention its portrayal of the battle of the sexes is kind of offensive, even more so than one might even resign oneself to when watching opera. Meanwhile, while O’Hara was sure during her inteerview to talk about how she had studied opera in college, her abilities to sing it remain limited, as became devastating clear once Fleming showed up. And she wasn’t singing nearly enough, making it seem like even she couldn’t save the damn thing. The visuals were gorgeous, but it felt like all dressed up and no place to sing.
Thankfully after the intermission, things improved somewhat. The second act contained a bit more singing for Fleming, and also for leading man Nathan Gunn, a man described his interview as a man equally comfortable in opera and Broadway, and when given the chance did display the best of both. Then in the third act, we finally reached the showgirl dance the opera had wisely advertised itself with before the broadcast of Meistersinger, where O’Hara finally got to do something she was actually really great at, and Stroman’s skillset also showed its strength, I think. The second two acts were also when the best pieces of music in the opera started showing up, including one waltz I was stunned to hear in its original context having grown up with a kiddie birthday version of it, and most of them involved signing by Fleming and/or Gunn, which made them better. Also the comedy even *might* have gotten slightly funnier, especially when it was being carried by stage/screen actor Carson Elrod as the comic manservant.
Still, I’m really hoping Cav & Pag at the end of the season is better.