By Crystal Tang and Fitri Handa Yani
With a history of more than a century, ‘The Merry Widow’ by Austro-Hungarian Franz Lehár remains a popular romantic comedy operetta to date. Ever since its premier in 1905, the ‘Queen of Operettas’ has been known for its rich orchestral pieces that bring out a flirty waltz coupled with a lighthearted and sensational storyline that speaks to many of us out there.
The Singapore Lyric Opera brought the celebrated operetta back to Esplanade Theatres from 24th to 26th October 2014. Presented in English using Christopher Hassall’s translation, the rendition by British director David Edwards see itself rolling out with an additional surprise element in play – a tinge of local context that sent the audience in good cheer as they resonated with the common language and recent social laments going on in Singapore.
Set in metropolis Paris, this lighthearted operetta obscures a much serious theme of social and economic transformation. It highlights the cultural and identity challenge the foreigners faced living in 1905 Vienna. In a larger context, Count Danilo’s triumph in winning the love of Hanna and his attainment of her fortune becomes a fantastical scenario in assisting these foreigners to achieve both wealth and identity. The frivolity of French dance halls, comical plot and burlesque elements in ‘The Merry Widow’ serve more than just to entertain. They are parodying the corrupted Parisian upper class, authorities, governments and social norms. The operetta becomes a theatre that satirises the high-art.
To top it off, the voices of the main cast as well as the male and female choruses sent the audience into the various moods and settings of the operetta. This is coupled with a more ‘updated’ setting in the 1920s that filled the stage with exotic costumes exuding high energy and a vibrant spirit. In addition, a special Filipino number titled ‘Kailangan Kita’ greeted the audience by surprise as the 5-men strong chorus sing their hearts out in the middle of Act 3. Cast as Hanna (Merry Widow), the voice of British-Sri Lankan soprano Kishani Jayasinghe took centre stage as her mellow yet sleek voice soared through the arias and duets, hitting every high note that was well-anticipated by the audience. All these would not have been possible without the swinging baton of Timothy Carey and his ever-so-sensitive orchestral accompaniment for the entire evening’s performance.
We were entertained by the melodious tunes and upbeat rhythms, awed by the intensity of their singing, and thoroughly enjoyed their skilled performances.