Review: The Merry Widow improves with age
The Merry Widow
Hong Kong Ballet HK Cultural Centre
Reviewed: June 15, 7.30pm
Ronald Hynd's 1975 piece The Merry Widow is narrative ballet at its best. The Franz Lehar score, complemented by John Lanchester and Desmond Heeley's lavish Belle Époque designs, help make the show as effervescent and refreshing as the champagne which the cast are constantly drinking.
Based on the operetta of the same name, the plot is a frothy farce about the efforts of Baron Zeta, the elderly Pontevedrian ambassador in Paris, to save his country from financial ruin by marrying wealthy widow Hanna to the dashing, if drunk, Count Danilo. However, the baron does not know that the two were in love in their youth but were parted by Danilo's family. Nor, for that matter, does Zeta realise that his young wife Valencienne and French attaché Camille are having an affair. This leads to much comedy and a few tears before the inevitable happy ending.
The first run of The Merry Widow in 2007, one of the Hong Kong Ballet's finest feats, was staged by choreographer Hynd himself and John Meehan, then the company's artistic director, who created the role of Danilo. Meehan couldn't return this year due to an accident.
As a result, perhaps, this revival was not quite so polished. The first night was plagued with problems, but as the run continued, the ballet succeeded, as a new generation of dancers took the stage. The company fielded three casts. The most satisfying was headed by Wu Fei-fei in the title role, with Kostyantyn Keshyshev as Danilo. Wu made a strong impression when she first danced Hanna in 2007 as a young soloist. Today, as a principal, she is an ideal Hanna.
Keshyshev made a fine debut. He needs to work on acting in more detail, but a sensational Act Three showed how exciting he is to watch when he enjoys himself.
Liu Yiu-yao was a delightful Valencienne and Li Lin (Camille) was impressive in his first major role. Their difficult pas de deux in Act Two was beautifully performed.
But the biggest revelation was Liang Jing's Baron. It was a pleasure to see the company's ballet master return to the stage - funny, moving and convincing as a much older man. Another welcome return is Conrado Dy-Liacco, hilarious as the baron's long-suffering secretary.