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The Merry Widow review at Grand Theatre, Leeds – ‘a visual treat’

Quirijn de Lang and Máire Flavin in Opera North's The Merry Widow. Photo: Robert Workman

One of the most popular of all operettas, The Merry Widow follows the attempts of Baron Zeta, the Pontevedrian ambassador in Paris, to secure a husband of the same nationality for the extremely wealthy and newly widowed Pontevedrian, Hanna Glawari. Were she to take a French husband, the transfer of her fortune away from the Balkan principality would lead it to collapse.

Leslie Travers’s designs are unashamedly colourful and opulent: boards displaying flock walls and suspended chandeliers are complemented by art nouveau statues holding light globes and party guests wear glamorous evening gowns or decorated military uniforms.

Kit Hesketh-Harvey’s and Giles Harvergal’s liberally reworked and updated libretto is relatively pithy. A one-liner alluding to the banking crisis may have been more topical during the production’s first outing in 2010, but a reference to that Ferrero Rocher TV ad still draws a laugh. More appositely, in this centenary year of the UK women’s right to vote, the Ladies’ Choice dance draws parallels to women’s suffrage.

Beset with illicit affairs, mistaken identities, misread intentions and crossed messages, the plot benefits from an uncomplicated production such as this, though its sparkle drops occasionally.

Maire Flavin is a rich-toned Glawari, also bold and showy in the uppermost register; Amy Freston exudes energy as Baron Zeta’s Valencienne (temporarily distracted into unfaithfulness, but unquestionably focused when she joins the can-can girls from Maxim’s in the last Act).

Nicholas Watts is crisply turned-out as Valencienne’s paramour, Camille. The stand-out performance, though, is Quirijn de Lang’s sensational Danilo. Louche, aristocratic and debonair, he sings wonderfully, looks beautiful and displays a rapier-sharp comic diction and physicality that reveals him as the love-child of John Cleese and Jean Dujardin.

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Opera North's witty, well-paced production makes for a visual treat