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The Merry Widow

Updated: Jun 17

by Franz Lehar


[This synopsis, like my others, is very, very brief. The reason is that I find the normal programme note much too long, and needlessly detailed and complicated. What I want is more of an overview. If I’ve read an overview – a sort of synopsis of a synopsis – I find that, particularly with the help of surtitles, there is then absolutely no need for a blow-by-blow description of the plot.]


The Merry Widow is a delightfully tuneful and romantic comic operetta with, appropriately, a delightfully silly plot.


It concerns the widow Hanna, who is from the impoverished Balkan state of Pontevedro. She is rich, having been left a fortune by her deceased husband.


The action, which takes place in Paris, revolves around the plans to ensure that she doesn’t remarry a non-Pontevedrian, thus depriving Pontevedro of her riches. This is all led by the Baron Zeta, the Pontevedrian ambassador in Paris.


The obvious candidate for matrimony is Count Danilo, who loves Hanna but won’t say so because he would be seen to be going for her money. She won’t marry him if he won’t say he loves her.


Before this little difficulty gets resolved (as of course it does), there is a lot of confusion, much of it concerning a fan and also a tryst in a garden summer house (or Pavillon).


The main confusion (which it is unnecessary, and much too complex, to describe) arises because the Baron Zeta’s wife, Valencienne, is being pursued by Count Camille, a Frenchman (eventually involving the tryst in the Pavillon). Zeta is worried that Camille will marry Hanna. Camille gives Valencienne a fan with “I love you” written on it, which fan she loses. One of the functionaries at the embassy gets hold of the fan and jealously supposes that it belongs to his wife. None of this matters much as none of the suspected affairs go anywhere. (Valencienne has written “I’m a respectable wife” on the back of the fan, which obviously removes all conceivable doubts about her fidelity.)


All is resolved with Hanna when she announces that when she remarries she will lose her fortune. Danilo declares his love. Then Hanna explains that she only meant that her fortune would go to her husband. All ends happily.

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