Franz Lehar

The Merry Widow


 

The Merry Widow (German: Die lustige Witwe) is an operetta by the Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár. The librettists, Viktor Léon and Leo Stein, based the story – concerning a rich widow, and her countrymen's attempt to keep her money in the principality by finding her the right husband – on an 1861 comedy play, L'attaché d'ambassade (The Embassy Attaché) by Henri Meilhac.
 

The operetta has enjoyed extraordinary international success since its 1905 premiere in Vienna and continues to be frequently revived and recorded. Film and other adaptations have also been made. Well-known music from the score includes the "Vilja Song", "Da geh' ich zu Maxim" ("You'll Find Me at Maxim's"), and the "Merry Widow Waltz".
 

In 1861, Henri Meilhac premiered a comic play in Paris, L'attaché d'ambassade (The Embassy Attaché), in which the Parisian ambassador of a poor German grand duchy, Baron Scharpf, schemes to arrange a marriage between his country's richest widow (a French woman) and a Count to keep her money at home, thus preventing economic disaster in the duchy. The play was soon adapted into German as Der Gesandschafts-Attaché (1862) and was given several successful productions. In early 1905, Viennese librettist Leo Stein came across the play and thought it would make a good operetta. He suggested this to one of his writing collaborators, Viktor Léon and to the manager of the Theater an der Wien, who was eager to produce the piece. The two adapted the play as a libretto and updated the setting to contemporary Paris, expanding the plot to reference an earlier relationship between the widow (this time a countrywoman) and the Count, and moving the native land from a dour German province to a colourful little Balkan state. In addition, the widow admits to an affair to protect the Baron's wife, and the Count's haven is changed to the Parisian restaurant and nightclub Maxim's. 
 

The theatre's staff next suggested that Franz Lehár might compose the piece. Lehár had worked with Léon and Stein on Der Göttergatte the previous year. Although Léon doubted that Lehár could invoke an authentic Parisian atmosphere, he was soon enchanted by Lehar's first number for the piece, a bubbly galop melody for "Dummer, dummer Reitersmann". The score of Die Lustige Witwe was finished in a matter of months. The theatre engaged Mizzi Günther and Louis Treumann (de) for the leading roles. They had starred as the romantic couple in other operettas in Vienna, including a production of Der Opernball and a previous Léon and Lehár success, Der Rastelbinder (1902). Both stars were so enthusiastic about the piece that they supplemented the theatre's low-budget production by paying for their own lavish costumes. 

 

Franz Lehar, THE MERRY WIDOW In English 27 03 1996 - New York City Opera

Roles

Hanna Glawari, a wealthy widow    -soprano
Count Danilo Danilovitsch, First Secretary of the Pontevedrin embassy and Hanna's former lover    -tenor 
Baron Mirko Zeta, the Ambassador    -baritone
Valencienne, Baron Zeta's wife    -soprano 
Camille, Count de Rosillon,
French attaché to the embassy, the Baroness's admirer    -tenor 
Njegus, the Embassy Secretary
Kromow, Pontevedrin embassy counsellor    -baritone 
Bogdanovitch, Pontevedrin consul    -baritone
Sylviane, Bogdanovitch's wife    -soprano 
Raoul de St Brioche, French diplomat    -tenor 
Vicomte Cascada, Latin diplomat    -baritone
Olga, Kromow's wife    -mezzo-soprano 
Pritschitsch, Embassy consul    -baritone 
Praskowia, Pritschitsch's wife    -mezzo-soprano 
Parisians and Pontevedrins, musicians and servants

Franz Lehár -"Die lustige Witwe" /The Merry Widow

The Merry Widow: "We're the Ladies of the Chorus"

Synopsis

 

Act 1

The embassy in Paris of the poverty-stricken Balkan principality of Pontevedro is holding a ball to celebrate the birthday of the sovereign, the Grand Duke. Hanna Glawari, who has inherited twenty million francs from her late husband, is to be a guest at the ball – and the Pontevedrin ambassador, Baron Zeta, is scheming to ensure that she will keep her fortune in the country, saving Pontevedro from bankruptcy. The Baron intends that Count Danilo Danilovitsch, the first secretary of the embassy, should marry the widow; unfortunately for this plan, Danilo is not at the party, so Zeta sends Danilo's assistant Njegus to fetch him from Maxim's.

 

Danilo arrives and meets Hanna. It emerges they were in love before her marriage, but his uncle had interrupted their romance because Hanna had had nothing to her name. Though they still love each other, Danilo now refuses to court Hanna for her fortune, and Hanna vows that she will not marry him until he says "I love you" – something he claims he will never do.

Meanwhile, Baron Zeta's wife Valencienne has been flirting with the French attaché to the embassy, Count Camille de Rosillon, who writes "I love you" on her fan. Valencienne puts off Camille's advances, saying that she is a respectable wife. However, they lose the incriminating fan, which is found by embassy counsellor Kromow. Kromow jealously fears that the fan belongs to his own wife, Olga, and gives it to Baron Zeta. Not recognising it, Baron Zeta decides to return the fan discreetly, in spite of Valencienne's desperate offers to take it "to Olga" herself.
 

On his way to find Olga, the Baron meets Danilo, and his diplomatic mission takes precedence over the fan. The Baron orders Danilo to marry Hanna. Danilo refuses, but offers to eliminate any non-Pontevedrin suitors as a compromise.

As the "Ladies' Choice" dance is about to begin, Hanna becomes swarmed with hopeful suitors. Valencienne volunteers Camille to dance with Hanna, privately hoping that the Frenchman will marry her and cease to be a temptation for Valencienne herself. True to his bargain with the Baron, Danilo circulates the ballroom, rounding up ladies to claim dances and thin the crowd around the wealthy widow. Hanna, however, chooses the one man who is not apparently interested in dancing with her: Danilo, who immediately announces that he will sell his dance with Hanna Glawari for ten thousand francs, with the proceeds to benefit charity. This extinguishes the remaining suitors' interest in the dance. After they have left, Danilo attempts to dance with Hanna, who refuses in annoyance. Nonchalantly he proceeds to waltz by himself, eventually wearing down Hanna's resistance, and she falls into his arms.
 

Act 2

Scene 1

The next evening, everyone is dressed in Pontevedrin clothing for a garden party at Hanna's house, now celebrating the Grand Duke's birthday in his own country's fashion. Hanna entertains by singing an old Pontevedrin song: "Es lebt' eine Vilja, ein Waldmägdelein" ("There lived a Vilja, a girl of the woods"). Meanwhile, Baron Zeta fears that Camille will spoil his plan for Hanna to marry a Pontevedrin. Still not recognising the fan as Valencienne's, the Baron orders Danilo to discover the identity of its owner, whom he correctly assumes to be Camille's married lover. The two men, along with Njegus, arrange to meet that evening in Hanna's garden pavilion to discuss Danilo's findings, as well as the problem of securing the widow's fortune for Pontevedro. Seeing the fan, Hanna takes the message on it to be Danilo's declaration of love for her, which he denies. His inquiries regarding the fan prove fruitless, but do reveal infidelities committed by some of the wives of embassy personnel.

 

Scene 2
That evening, Camille and Valencienne meet in the garden, where Valencienne insists that they must part. Discovering the fan, accidentally left behind by Danilo, Camille begs Valencienne to let him have it as a keepsake. Valencienne agrees, writing "I'm a respectable wife" on it as a rejoinder to Camille's "I love you." Camille persuades Valencienne to join him in the pavilion so that they can say their goodbyes in private. This is of course the same pavilion where Danilo, the Baron, and Njegus have agreed to meet, and the latter, arriving first, locks the door when he spots people inside. Baron Zeta and Danilo follow, but Njegus quickly arranges with Hanna to change places with Valencienne. Camille emerges from the pavilion with Hanna, who announces that they plan to marry, leaving the Baron distraught at the thought of Pontevedro losing Hanna's millions and Valencienne distraught at losing Camille. Danilo is furious, and tells the story of a Princess who cheated on her Prince ("Es waren zwei Königskinder)" before storming off to seek distraction at Maxim's. Hanna realises that Danilo's anger over her engagement to another man proves that he loves her, and she rejoices amid the general despair.

 

Act 3

Act 3 is set at a theme party in Hanna's ballroom, which she has decorated to look like Maxim's, complete with Maxim's grisettes (can-can dancers). Valencienne, who has dressed herself as a grisette, entertains the guests ("Ja, wir sind es, die Grisetten"). When Danilo arrives, having found the real Maxim's empty, he tells Hanna to give up Camille for the sake of Pontevedro. Much to Danilo's delight, Hanna replies truthfully that she was never engaged to Camille but was protecting the reputation of a married woman. Danilo comes very close to declaring his love for Hanna, but stops himself from doing so when he remembers her money and his proud refusal to court her for it. Njegus produces the fan, which he picked up earlier, and Baron Zeta finally remembers that it belongs to Valencienne. He swears to divorce his wife and marry the widow himself, but Hanna stops him by declaring that she will lose her fortune if she remarries. At this, Danilo promptly confesses his love for her and asks Hanna to marry him. Hanna triumphantly accepts, adding that she will lose her fortune only because it will become the property of her new husband. Valencienne assures Baron Zeta of her fidelity by pointing out her reply to Camille's declaration of love written on the fan: "Ich bin eine anständige Frau" ("I'm a respectable wife"). All ends happily.


 

Franz Lehár (30 April 1870 – 24 October 1948) was an Austro-Hungarian composer. He is mainly known for his operettas, of which the most successful and best known is The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe).
 

Lehár was born in the northern part of Komárom, Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary (now Komárno, Slovakia), the eldest son of Franz Lehár (senior) (1838–1898), an Austrian bandmaster in the Infantry Regiment No. 50 of the Austro-Hungarian Army and Christine Neubrandt (1849–1906), a Hungarian woman from a family of German descent. He grew up speaking only Hungarian until the age of 12. Later he put an acute accent above the "a" of his father's surname "Lehár" to indicate the vowel in the corresponding Hungarian orthography.
 

While his younger brother Anton entered cadet school in Vienna to become a professional officer, Franz studied violin at the Prague Conservatory, where his violin teacher was Antonín Bennewitz, but was advised by Antonín Dvořák to focus on composition. However, the Conservatory's rules at that time did not allow students to study both performance and composition, and Bennewitz and Lehár senior exerted pressure on Lehár to take his degree in violin as a practical matter, arguing that he could study composition on his own later. Lehár followed their wishes, against his will, and aside from a few clandestine lessons with Zdeněk Fibich he was self-taught as a composer. After graduation in 1888 he joined his father's band in Vienna, as assistant bandmaster. Two years later he became bandmaster at Losoncz (in contemporary East Slovakia), making him the youngest bandmaster in the Austro-Hungarian Army at that time, but he left the army and joined the navy. With the navy he was first Kapellmeister at Pola (Pula) from 1894 to 1896, resigning in the later year when his first opera, Kukuschka (later reworked as Tatjana in 1906), premiered in Leipzig. It was only a middling success and Lehár eventually rejoined the army, with service in the garrisons at Trieste, Budapest (1898) and finally Vienna from 1899 to 1902. In 1902 he became conductor at the historic Vienna Theater an der Wien, where his operetta Wiener Frauen was performed in November of that year.


He is most famous for his operettas – the most successful of which is The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) – but he also wrote sonatas, symphonic poems and marches. He also composed a number of waltzes (the most popular being Gold und Silber, composed for Princess Pauline von Metternich's "Gold and Silver" Ball, January 1902), some of which were drawn from his famous operettas. Individual songs from some of the operettas have become standards, notably "Vilja" from The Merry Widow and "You Are My Heart's Delight" ("Dein ist mein ganzes Herz") from The Land of Smiles (Das Land des Lächelns). His most ambitious work, Giuditta in 1934 is closer to opera than to operetta. It contains the ever popular "Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß" ("On my lips every kiss is like wine").
 

Lehár was also associated with the operatic tenor Richard Tauber, who sang in many of his operettas, beginning with a revival of his 1910 operetta Zigeunerliebe (de) in 1920 and then Frasquita (de) in 1922, in which Lehár once again found a suitable post-war style. Lehár made a brief appearance in the 1930 film adaptation The Land of Smiles starring Tauber. Between 1925 and 1934 he wrote six operettas specifically for Tauber's voice. By 1935 he decided to form his own publishing house, Glocken-Verlag (Publishing House of the Bells), to maximize his personal control over performance rights to his works.
He died aged 78 in 1948 in Bad Ischl, near Salzburg, and was buried there.



 

Franz Lehár
(1870-1948)