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The Merry Widow


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".


  • Performance history 1
  • Roles 2
  • Synopsis 3
    • Act 1 3.1
    • Act 2 3.2
    • Act 3 3.3
  • English adaptations 4
  • Versions 5
    • Chappell and Glocken 5.1
    • German and French 5.2
  • Recordings 6
  • Adaptations 7
    • Ballet version 7.1
    • Film versions 7.2
  • Uses in media 8
  • Notes 9
  • Sources 10
  • External links 11

Performance history

The operetta was first performed at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on 30 December 1905 with Mizzi Günther as Hanna, Louis Treumann as Danilo, Siegmund Natzler as Baron Zeta and Annie Wünsch as Valencienne. It was Lehár's first major success, becoming internationally the best-known operetta of its era. Lehár subsequently made changes for productions in London in 1907 (two new numbers), and Berlin in the 1920s, but the definitive version is basically that of the original production.

The operetta toured Austria and in 1906 enjoyed productions in Hamburg's Neues Operetten-Theater, Berlin's Berliner Theater (starring Gustav Matzner as Danilo and Marie Ottmann as Hanna, who made the first complete recording in 1907), and Budapest's Magyar Színház. Its English adaptation by Basil Hood, with lyrics by Adrian Ross, became a sensation in London in 1907 and ran for an extraordinary 778 performances, followed by extensive British tours. The first performance in Paris was at the Théâtre Apollo on 28 April 1909.[1] Many international productions, as well as revivals followed, as did sequels, spoofs and film versions.[2]

The operetta originally had no overture; Lehár wrote one for the Vienna Philharmonic to perform at his 70th birthday concert in April 1940.[3]


Louis Treumann and Mizzi Günther on the frontpage of a piano-vocal score, 1906
Role Voice type Premiere cast,
30 December 1905
(Conductor: Franz Lehár)
Hanna Glawari, a wealthy widow (title role) soprano Mizzi Günther
Count Danilo Danilovitsch, First Secretary
of the Pontevedrin embassy and Hanna's former lover
tenor or lyric baritone Louis Treumann
Baron Mirko Zeta, the Ambassador baritone Siegmund Natzler
Valencienne, Baron Zeta's wife soprano Annie Wünsch
Camille, Count de Rosillon, French attaché
to the embassy, the Baroness's admirer
tenor Karl Meister
Njegus, the Embassy Secretary spoken Oskar Sachs
Kromow, Pontevedrin embassy counsellor baritone Heinrich Pirl
Bogdanovitch, Pontevedrin consul baritone Fritz Albin
Sylviane, Bogdanovitch's wife soprano Bertha Ziegler
Raoul de St Brioche, French diplomat tenor Carlo Böhm
Vicomte Cascada, Latin diplomat baritone Leo von Keller
Olga, Kromow's wife mezzo-soprano Minna Schütz
Pritschitsch, Embassy consul baritone Julius Bramer
Praskowia, Pritschitsch's wife mezzo-soprano Lili Wista
Parisians and Pontevedrins, musicians and servants


Act 1

The embassy in Paris of the poverty-stricken Grand Duchy 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 ambassador, Baron Zeta, wants to ensure that she will marry another Pontevedrian and thereby keep her fortune in the country, saving Pontevedro from bankruptcy. Baron Zeta has in mind Count Danilo Danilovitsch, the First Secretary of the embassy, but his plans are not going well. Danilo is not at the party, so Zeta sends Njegus, the embassy secretary, to fetch him from Maxim's.

Danilo finally arrives and meets Hanna. It emerges they were in love before her marriage, but his uncle interrupted their romance because Hanna had absolutely nothing to her name. Although they still love each other, Danilo refuses to court Hanna because of her fortune and Hanna vows she will not marry him until he says "I love you".

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, who jealously fears the fan belongs to his wife, Olga, and gives it to Baron Zeta. Not recognising Valencienne's fan, Baron Zeta decides to return the fan to Olga, in spite of Valencienne's desperate offers to take the fan and return it herself.

On his way to see Olga, the Baron meets Danilo, and his diplomatic mission takes precedence over the fan. The Baron orders Danilo to marry Hanna. Refusing to accede to the Baron's demand, Danilo offers to eliminate any non-Pontevedrian suitors as a compromise.

The "Ladies' Choice" dance is about to start, and all the men hover around Hanna, hoping to be her choice of partner. Valencienne hatches an idea to get Camille to marry Hanna so that he will cease to be a temptation for her, and therefore volunteers Camille as a partner for Hanna in her "Ladies' Choice" dance. Danilo goes to the ballroom to round up some of the other ladies to claim dances with the hopeful suitors of Hanna. Even after the ladies have made their choices, there are still some suitors left behind. Hanna chooses the one man who is apparently not interested in dancing with her – Danilo. Danilo refuses to dance, but claims the dance anyway. He offers his dance with Hanna for sale for ten thousand francs, with the proceeds to benefit charity. This extinguishes the interest of the would-be suitors in the dance. After they have left, Danilo attempts to dance with Hanna. Annoyed at his previous evasive maneuver, she refuses to dance with him. Nonchalantly, Danilo begins to waltz by himself, eventually wearing down Hanna's resistance, and she falls into his arms.

Act 2

The next evening, everyone is dressed in Pontevedrian clothing, at a party in the garden at Hanna's house, to celebrate the birthday of the Grand Duke in Pontevedrian fashion. Hanna entertains by singing an old Pontevedrian song, "Vilja" ("Es lebt' eine Vilja, ein Waldmägdelein" – "There lived a Vilja, a maid of the woods"). Meanwhile, Baron Zeta fears that Camille is a threat to his plan for Hanna to marry a Pontevedrian. Still not recognising the fan as Valencienne's, the Baron orders Danilo to find out the identity of its owner, whom he assumes to be Camille's married lover. A meeting is arranged between Zeta, Danilo and Njegus, to discuss the identity of the owner of the fan and also the problem with regard to the widow, with the meeting to be held that evening in Hanna's garden pavilion. Hanna sees the fan, and thinks the message on it is Danilo's declaration of love for her, which he denies. Danilo's inquiries about the identity of the owner of the fan result in revelations of the details of the infidelities of some of the wives of Embassy personnel, but do not reveal the identity of the owner of the fan.

That evening, Camille and Valencienne meet in the garden. Valencienne continues to resist Camille's advances, declaring that they must part. Camille begs for a keepsake, and discovers the fan, which Danilo had accidentally left behind, after his inquiries. Camille begs Valencienne to let him keep the fan as the keepsake, and Valencienne agrees, after writing "I'm a highly respectable wife" on the fan in response to Camille's earlier written declaration of "I love you". Camille persuades Valencienne to enter the same pavilion – in which Danilo, the Baron and Njegus had arranged to meet – so that they can say their goodbyes in private. Njegus, who arrives first for the meeting, discovers that Camille is in the pavilion with Valencienne. Njegus locks the door to the pavilion when Danilo and Baron Zeta arrive, and delays their entry to the pavilion. The Baron peeps through the keyhole to see what lovers may be inside and is upset when he recognises his own wife. Njegus arranges with Hanna to change places with Valencienne. Camille leaves the pavilion followed by Hanna, confounding the Baron when they appear. Hanna announces that she is to marry Camille, leaving the Baron distraught at the thought of losing the Pontevedrian 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") and then storms off to seek the distractions at Maxim's. Hanna realises that his anger at the announcement of her engagement shows that Danilo loves her and rejoices among the general despair.

Act 3

Finale of The Merry Widow

Act 3 is set at a theme party in Hanna's ballroom, which she has decorated as 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 the country. Much to Danilo's delight, Hanna tells him that she was never engaged to Camille, but that she was protecting the reputation of a married woman. Danilo is ready to declare his love for Hanna, and is on the point of doing so when he remembers her money, and stops himself. When Njegus produces the fan, which he had picked up earlier, Baron Zeta suddenly remembers that the fan belongs to Valencienne. Baron Zeta swears to divorce his wife and marry the widow himself, but Hanna tells him that she loses her fortune if she remarries. Hearing this, Danilo confesses his love for her and asks Hanna to marry him, and Hanna triumphantly points out that she will lose her fortune only because it will become the property of her husband. Valencienne produces the fan and assures Baron Zeta of her fidelity by reading out what she had replied to Camille's declaration: "Ich bin eine anständige Frau" ("I'm a respectable wife"); and all ends happily.

English adaptations

Lily Elsie in act 3, London, 1907

In its English adaptation by Basil Hood, with lyrics by Adrian Ross, the operetta became a sensation in London, beginning on 8 June 1907, starring Lily Elsie and Joseph Coyne and featuring Robert Evett and Gabrielle Ray, with costumes by Lucile. It ran for 778 performances in London and toured extensively in Great Britain.[4] The English version opened on 21 October 1907 at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway for another very successful run of 416 performances and played in Australia in 1908. Thereafter, it was played frequently in America and throughout the English-speaking world, and is still frequently revived in English.[1][2] In London, the first performance by The Royal Opera was in 1997.[5] The Metropolitan Opera had mounted the opera 18 times by 2003.[6]

In the 1970s, the Light Opera of Manhattan, a year-round professional light opera repertory company in New York City, commissioned Alice Hammerstein Mathias, the daughter of Oscar Hammerstein II, to create a new English adaptation, which was extremely successful for that company in its many revivals of the production until the company closed at the end of the 1980s.[7][8]

Essgee Entertainment staged productions of The Merry Widow in capital cities around Australia during 1998 and 1999. A prologue was added featuring a narrative by Jon English and a ballet introducing the earlier romance of Anna and Danilo. The production opened in Brisbane, with Jeffrey Black as Danilo, Helen Donaldson as "Anna", Simon Gallaher as Camille and English as Baron Zeta. In some performances, during the production's Brisbane run, Jason Barry-Smith appeared as Danilo. In Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide in 1999, John O'May appeared as Danilo, Marina Prior as "Hanna", Max Gillies as Zeta, Gallaher as Camille and Donaldson as Valencienne.


Chappell and Glocken

Lily Elsie, London, 1907

Die lustige Witwe was subjected to many revisions during translation and adaptation in the early 1900s. For instance, the 1907 London production with a libretto written by Adrian Ross, out of diplomacy, renamed many of the characters partly to avoid offense to Montenegro, where the royal family's surname was Njegus, the crown prince named Danilo, and Zeta was the principal founding state.

Different versions of the score have been published by two different publishing companies. One is the Dover edition of the 1907 Chappell & Co., London score, with character and place-names altered from their names in the original German.

The other, Glocken Verlag Ltd, London, published two different English translation editions in 1958. One English-language libretto is by Phil Park, which was adapted and arranged by Ronald Hanmer. The other English-language libretto, by Christopher Hassall, was based on the edition by Ludwig Doblinger, Vienna. The former edition is said to be a "new version" with "orchestration carefully arranged" for modest or large orchestras. The 1958 version is a whole-tone lower. In the 1907 edition, Camille sings a high C in the "Rosebud Romance", instead of B. The Danilo and Sonia/Hanna/Anna humming of the waltz theme becomes a chorus number in the 1958 score, and the 1907 ending of the "Rosebud Romance" is sung mostly in unison rather than as a conversation. In the Glocken versions, Hanna is usually known as Anna.

In the Hassall version, the action of act 3 differs greatly from the original libretto: The act takes place at Maxim's. Valencienne, and the other Embassy wives arrive to seek out Danilo and convince him to return to Hanna, closely followed by their husbands, seeking to achieve the same purpose. Njegus also arrives, but he is more interested in having a good time. The Grisettes, Parisian cabaret girls, make a grand entrance, led by the voluptuous ZoZo. Zeta finds the brokenhearted Danilo, and as they argue, Hanna enters. Hanna, Danilo and Zeta separately bribe the Maitre'd to clear the room so Hanna and Danilo can be alone. Danilo sets aside his pride and asks Hanna to give up Camille for the sake of the country. Much to Danilo's delight, Hanna tells him that she was never engaged to Camille, but that she was protecting the reputation of a married woman. Danilo is ready to declare his love for Hanna, and is on the point of doing so when he remembers her money, and stops himself. When Njegus produces the fan, which he had picked up earlier, Baron Zeta suddenly realizes that the fan belongs to Valencienne. Baron Zeta swears to divorce his wife and marry the widow himself, but Hanna tells him that she loses her fortune if she remarries. Hearing this, Danilo confesses his love for her and asks Hanna to marry him, and Hanna triumphantly points out that she will lose her fortune only because it will become the property of her husband. Valencienne produces the fan and assures Baron Zeta of her fidelity by reading out what she had replied to Camille's declaration: "I'm a highly respectable wife". All ends happily.

Name in Glocken edition Name in Chappell edition
Hanna Glawari / Anna Glawari Sonia Glaward
Count Danilo Danilovitsch Prince Danilo Danilovitsch
Baron Mirko Zeta Baron Popoff
Valencienne Natalie
Camille, Count de Rosillon Vicomte Camille de Jolidon
Njegus Nisch

German and French

The original German version and the French version differ. Act 3 of the German version is as described here, where Hanna sets up a version of Maxim's at her home. Act 3 of the French version is set in the actual Maxim's. Best known as Danilo in the German version is actor Johannes Heesters who played the part thousands of times and for over thirty years.


The operetta has been recorded both live and in the studio many times, and several video recordings have been made.[9][10] In 1906, the original Hanna and Danilo, Mizzi Günther and Louis Treumann, recorded their arias and duets, and also some numbers written for Camille and Valencienne; CD transfers were made in 2005.[11] The first recording of a substantially complete version of the score was made in 1907 with Marie Ottmann and Gustav Matzner in the lead roles.[12] After that, excerpts appeared periodically on disc, but no new full recording was issued until 1950, when Columbia Records released a set sung in English with Dorothy Kirsten and Robert Rounseville.[12]

In 1953, EMI's Columbia label released a near-complete version[13] produced by Walter Legge, conducted by Otto Ackermann, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as Hanna, Erich Kunz as Danilo, Nicolai Gedda as Camille and Emmy Loose as Valencienne. It was sung in German, with abridged spoken dialogue.[14] Loose sang Valencienne again for Decca in the first stereophonic recording, produced in 1958 by John Culshaw, with Hilde Gueden, Per Grundén and Waldemar Kmentt in the other main roles, and the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Robert Stolz.[15] A second recording with Schwarzkopf as Hanna was issued by Columbia in 1963; the other main roles were sung by Eberhard Wächter, Gedda and Hanny Steffek.[12] This set, conducted by Lovro von Matačić, has been reissued on CD in EMI's "Great Recordings of the Century" series.[16] Among later complete or substantially complete sets are those conducted by Herbert von Karajan with Elizabeth Harwood as Hanna (1972); Franz Welser-Möst with Felicity Lott (1993); and John Eliot Gardiner with Cheryl Studer (1994).[12]

The Ackermann recording received the highest available rating in the 1956 The Record Guide[14] and the later EMI set under Matačić is highly rated by the 2008 The Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music,[16] but Alan Blyth in his Opera on CD regrets the casting of a baritone as Danilo in both sets and prefers the 1958 Decca version.[17] Among the filmed productions on DVD, the Penguin Guide recommends the one from the San Francisco Opera, recorded live in 2001, conducted by Erich Kunzel and directed by Lotfi Mansouri, with Yvonne Kenny as Hanna and Bo Skovhus as Danilo.[16]


Ballet version

With the permission of the Franz Lehár Estate, Sir Robert Helpmann adapted the operetta's plot scenario, while John Lanchbery and Alan Abbot adapted the operetta's music and composed additional music, for a three-act ballet. The Merry Widow ballet was first performed on 13 November 1975 by The Australian Ballet.[18]

Film versions

Various films have been made that are based loosely on the plot of the operetta[2]

Uses in media

The theme of "Da geh' ich zu Maxim" was ironically cited by Shostakovich in the first movement of his Symphony No. 7.[19] The same theme is also found in the fourth movement of Béla Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra in a parody of Shostakovich's symphony.[20]

"The Merry Widow Waltz" is a recurring theme in the 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and scored by Dimitri Tiomkin,[21] and in the 1943 film "Heaven Can Wait", by Ernst Lubitsch.[22]


  1. ^ a b Kenrick, John. 101 – History of a Hit: Part II"The Merry Widow"., 2004, accessed 28 July 2011
  2. ^ a b c Kenrick, John. 101 – History of a Hit: Part III"The Merry Widow"., 2004, accessed 28 July 2011
  3. ^ Göran Forsling, review of Naxos reissue of 1953 Ackermann recording of operetta.
  4. ^ in LondonThe Merry WidowInformation about
  5. ^ (1997)"The Merry Widow", Royal Opera House Collections Online, accessed 27 May 2012.
  6. ^ Kerner, Leighton. The Merry Widow. Opera News, 22 December 2003
  7. ^ "Alice Hammerstein Mathias". Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, accessed May 10, 2011
  8. ^ Article on the history of LOOM
  9. ^ recordingsDie lustige Witwe., accessed 10 May 2011
  10. ^ Kenrick, John. "Merry Widow 101: Discography"., 2006, accessed 28 July 2011
  11. ^ In addition to her own numbers, Gunther took over Valencienne's " Ich bin eine anständ'ge Frau" as a solo, and she and Treumann recorded Camille and Valencienne's duet, "Das ist der Zauber der Stillen Häuslichkeit". See: O'Connor, Patrick. "A Viennese Whirl", Gramophone, October 2005, p. 49
  12. ^ a b c d O'Connor, Patrick. "A Viennese Whirl", Gramophone, October 2005, pp. 48–52
  13. ^ It omits "Das ist der Zauber der Stillen Häuslichkeit": see O'Connor, Patrick. "A Viennese Whirl", Gramophone, October 2005, p. 50
  14. ^ a b Sackville-West, pp. 401–402
  15. ^ Stuart, Philip. "Decca Classical, 1929-2009". Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music, July 2009, accessed 11 May 2011
  16. ^ a b c March, p. 698
  17. ^ Blyth, pp. 138–139
  18. ^ Weinberger, Joseph. "The Merry Widow Ballet"The Creation of
  19. ^ "Saturday 18th May 2002". London Shostakovich Orchestra, accessed 4 January 2011
  20. ^ Liner notes to Chandos CD CHAN 8947
  21. ^ Crogan, Patrick. "Shadow of a Doubt"Between Heads: Thoughts on the Merry Widow Tune in , Senses of Cinema, May 2000, accessed May 23, 2014
  22. ^ Alpert, Robert. "Ernst Lubitsch and Nancy Meyers: A Study on Movie Love in the Classic and Post-Modernist Traditions", Senses of Cinema, March 2012, accessed 3 July 2014


  • Blyth, Alan. Opera on CD. London: Kyle Cathie, 1992. ISBN 1-85626-103-4
  • Bordman, Gerald. American Operetta. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
  • Gänzl, Kurt. The Merry Widow in The Encyclopedia of Musical Theatre (3 volumes). New York: Schirmer Books, 2001.
  • Grun, Bernard. Gold and Silver: The Life and Times of Franz Lehár. New York: David McKay Co., 1970.
  • March, Ivan (ed). Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music 2008. London: Penguin Books, 2007. ISBN 0-14-103336-3
  • Sackville-West, Edward, and Desmond Shawe-Taylor. The Record Guide. London: Collins, 1956. OCLC 500373060
  • Traubner, Richard. Operetta: A Theatrical History. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1983
  • Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). 30 December 1905" "Die lustige Witwe,. Almanacco Amadeus (Italian).
  • : A Brief HistoryThe Merry Widow
  • John Culme's Footlight Notes site (2004)
  • Comprehensive site celebrating centenary of the work, edited by Andrew Lamb

External links

  • Libretto (German, English)
  • The Merry WidowPhotos from productions of , New York Public Library
  • IMDb search page for "Merry Widow"
  • in each major runDie Lustige Witwe and The Merry WidowList of theatre runs showing the number of performances of
  • Clips from a performance at the Moscow Operetta Theatre
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