In her second operatic triumph of the local season, Susan Graham has offered up everybody’s dream Widow in Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” — the wisdom, the cynicism, the lustrous voice — splendidly matched by Rod Gilfry’s sly, insinuating Danilo. They make great waltzing partners, too. Overall, however, at three hours and 15 minutes, the operetta could not quite be described as Wagnerian in length, except that thin music filling long periods of time always sounds longer than it is. And this “Widow” feels like a very long evening.
The problem with the L.A. Opera’s version of “Merry Widow” goes back to 1981, when the San Francisco Opera’s Lotfi Mansouri created an oversized gala version for its then-reigning diva, Joan Sutherland. To Lehar’s 80 minutes of music were added an interminable ballet, a choral number and a couple of songs from other Lehar works. The current production, also brought down from San Francisco, dates from 2001 and uses the same waterlogged version, again directed by Mansouri.
A supporting cast of comics, some worth watching and some worth the hook, kept the stage in hectic motion, in reasonable response to the musical leadership of the rising conductor, the Tasmanian Symphony’s Sebastian Lang-Lessing. At the final curtain, everybody came down front for a final raucous reprise of “Girls, Girls, Girls,” making it possible to leave with only Lehar’s marvelous music in mind, which is as it should be.
Michael Yeargan’s sets fill the eye with a pastiche of Art Nouveau Paris, including the swirls and squiggles of Hector Guimard’s famous Metro entrances; Thierry Bosquet’s costumes float free of gravity’s restraints.