Merry Widow [1996]

This production of Lehar's The Merry Widow is a mixed bag, appropriate, perhaps, for a work of art that is both sublime and ridiculous. Its weakest element is the presence of Joan Sutherland, which will undoubtedly attract the most buyers. Still, viewers will replay it often (perhaps bypassing some of Sutherland's numbers) for the sake of its lavish production, particularly for the abundant, polished, and colorful dance numbers. The 1988 performance, by the Australian Opera in the elegant Sydney Opera House, dates from the end of Sutherland's career, and it leaves one wondering whether she should have retired a bit sooner, while at the same time treasuring every moment in the presence of one of the unique voices of the 20th century. There are moments of beauty in her singing, but intonation and support are both variable. The supporting cast, including Ronald Stevens, Anne-Maree McDonald, and Anson Austin, is generally adept, though some gags (especially the Pontevedran accents) may seem overworked. --Joe McLellan

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