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'The Merry Widow' theater review -- 1 star

Kelli O'Hara as Valencienne and Alek Shrader as

Kelli O'Hara as Valencienne and Alek Shrader as Camille de Rosillon in Lehar's "The Merry Widow." Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Considering all the drama that threatened the Metropolitan Opera in recent months -- including tense labor negotiations followed by polarizing protests over "The Death of Klinghoffer" -- it would have been nice to just sit back and savor "The Merry Widow," a syrupy operetta full of waltzes and pretty melodies that premiered in Vienna in 1905 and went on to become an international sensation.

Unfortunately, this new production, staged by no less than Broadway's Susan Stroman ("The Producers"), has the aura of champagne gone terribly flat. Although a delicate piece such as this is hardly ideal for a massive venue like the Met, Stroman and her cast are primarily at fault for failing to breathe any sort of life into it.

Set in Paris, the skimpy plot revolves around the romance between a wealthy widow (Renée Fleming) and the gruff playboy (Nathan Gunn) who dated her long ago, plus a subplot about an enticing young woman (Kelli O'Hara) tempted to cheat on her older husband.

The patches of dialogue are humorless and sleep-inducing. And except for a buoyant cancan dance for the chorus girls and hammy group number for the men, the songs are disappointing too.

Fleming and Gunn are ideally cast but make little impact. You often get the impression that they were instructed to hold back as much as possible. O'Hara, who has won acclaim on Broadway for her nuanced performances and exquisite soprano voice, is ill at ease as a simpleton sexpot.

The set, though hardly opulent, somehow malfunctioned at my performance, and the curtain had to be brought down for 15 minutes. All things considered, it was the best part of the evening.


If you go:
“The Merry Widow” plays at the Metropolitan Opera through Jan. 31. Lincoln Center Plaza, metopera.org.
 

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