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The Merry Widow by Franz Lehár

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Published on Sep 23, 2008

André Rieu from the Point Theatre, Dublin, Ireland. Music to melt the heart.

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, Hanna Glawari, and her attempt to find a husband—on an 1861 comedy play, L'attaché d'ambassade (The Embassy Attaché) by Henri Meilhac.

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 and Berlin but the version heard today is essentially that of the original production. 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".

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 Szinhaz. Many translations and international productions, as well as Austrian revivals followed, as did sequels, spoofs and film versions.

In its English adaptation by Basil Hood, with lyrics by Adrian Ross, the operetta became a sensation in London, beginning in 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. The English version opened in October 1907 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.

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