Die Lustige Witwe

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Die Lustige Witwe ("the funny/vivacious widow") is a German operetta by composer Franz Lehár (1870-1948)[1] and librettists Viktor Léon [2] and Leo Stein [3].

Adapted into English as The Merry Widow.

The original text

The story is based on an 1861 French comedy play, L'attaché d'ambassade ("The Embassy Attaché") by Henri Meilhac [4], which tells of concerning a rich widow, and her countrymen's attempt to keep her money in the principality by finding her the right husband.

The operetta was first performed in German at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on 30 December 1905, and toured in Austria in 1906. It became an immense success across the globe.

Translations and adaptations

Translations and adaptations of the libretto

Adapted into English as The Merry Widow by Basil Hood (1864-1917)[5], with lyrics by Adrian Ross (1859-1933)[6], it became a sensation after opening at Daly's Theatre, London, on 8 June 1907. Produced by George Edwardes, the operetta had an astounding 778 performances in London and toured widely in Britain. It opened in America on 21 October 1907 at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway, where it ran for 416 performances. Numerous touring companies then took it across the US, all using the libretto by Hood and Ross. It became best known internationally by it English title.

Adapted as The Merry Widow of Malagawi by Janice Honeyman for Cape Town Opera in 2015. The Merry Widow of Malagawi is a light‐hearted theatrical and musical exploration of diplomatic intrigue, capitalism and how people protect their wealth and self‐interests. The themes prevalent in Lehar’s early 20th century Vienna – womens’ suffrage, the growth of industrialism and the movement from rural to urban economies – mirror many contemporary situations on the African continent. Director Honeyman gives the new production an upbeat and contemporary feel, contextualizing what has become the new vibrant, wealthy and internationally connected middle/upper class in Malagawi.

A number of other translations and adaptations into English have been done in the 20th century - see for example the entry on "The Merry Widow" in Wikipedia[7]

Translated into French as La Veuve joyeuse (opening in Paris at the Théâtre Apollo on 28 April 1909) and has been done in Italian as La Vedova Allegra.

Film versions

Various films have been made of the story over the years, at times rather loosely based on the plot of the operetta. These include silent versions by Michael Curtiz (1918) and Erich von Stroheim (1925), a black-and-white version by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald (1934), a Technicolor version with Lana Turner and Fernando Lamas (1952) and an Austrian version by Werner Jacobs (1962).

Radio versions

The libretto translated into Afrikaans and adapted for radio by Gideon Roos as Die Vrolike Weduwee. The radio libretto published by DALRO in 1969.

Performance history in South Africa

1908: First performed in South Africa on 24 August at the Cape Town Opera House by a Gaiety Company under the management of the Wheeler Brothers, with Frank Wheeler in the role of "Prince Danilo". It was the actor's last appearance on stage in Cape Town.

1909: Performed once again at the Cape Town Opera House at the start of the year by the Gaiety Company under the management of the Wheeler Brothers, with F.J. Blackman now playing "Prince Danilo".

1959: Staged by the Port Elizabeth Gilbert & Sullivan Society

1964: Presented by NAPAC Opera.

1973: Staged by CAPAB in the Nico Malan Opera House.

1977: Presented by PACT Opera.

1978: Staged by the Port Elizabeth Gilbert & Sullivan Society

1979: PACT. Conducted by Edgar Cree. Producer and costume designer: Neels Hansen. Choreographer: Geoffrey Sutherland. PACT Orchestra. Cast inclue Mimi Coerste; Emile Belcourt; Dawie Couzyn; Elize Botha; Stephen Tudor; David Sherwood; Ian Donald; George Kok; Bruce Anderson; Olive King; Clive Roffey; Margaret Beerstecher; De Wet van Rooyen; Clair Robins. Performed at the Aula, Pretoria; Civic Theatre, Johannesburg.

1979: Presented by NAPAC Opera.

1979: Presented by CAPAB Opera.

1983: Produced by PACT directed by Neels Hansen, and starring Roberta Palmer and Gé Korsten at the Pretoria State Theatre.

1989: Staged by CAPAB Opera in the Nico Malan Opera House, directed by Angelo Gobbato, conducted by Leo Quayle and choreographed by Pamela Chrimes. The cast included: Andrea Catzel (Hanna Glawari, the widow), Gé Korsten (Count Danilo), John Eager (Baron Mirko Zeta), Aviva Pelham (his wife), international tenor Edmondo Rahme (Camille), De Wet van Rooyen (Vicomte Cascade), David Dennis (Njegus) and others. Decor designed by Peter Cazalet and lighting by John T. Baker (24 November – 6 January 1990).

19**: Staged by NAPAC, directed and choreographed by John Pygram and conducted by Hans Menck. The cast included: Dorothy Avrich (Anna Glavari, the widow), Michael Gritten (Count Danilo), Peter Deighton (Baron Mirko Zeta), Anna Ware (his wife), Cyril Dowse (Camille) and others.

1992: Staged by CAPAB Opera (12 December – 7 January 1993).

2000: Staged by Cape Town Opera (18 March – 2 April)

2006: Presented by the Carl Rosa Opera Company on tour, with performances at the Artscape Opera House in Cape Town from January 25 and the Nelson Mandela Theatre of The Johannesburg Civic Theatre from February 8.

2015: The Merry Widow of Malagawi presented by Cape Town Opera, directed by Janice Honeyman. Conductor: Tim Murray; design: Michael Mitchell; costumes: Birrie Le Roux; lighting: Mannie Manim; choreographer: Sean Bovim. Anna: Elizabeth Llewellyn (u/s Arline Jaftha); Daniloh: Aubrey Lodewyk (u/s Mandisinde Mbuyazwe); Chief l’Zitho: Mandla Mndebele; Valencienne: Filipa van Eck (u/s Siphamandla Yakupa); Khumal Doh‐Rassa‐Yon: Lukhanyo Moyake; Njegus: Alan Committie; l’Komo: Monwabisi Lindi; S’lvumo: Thato Machona; Mrs S’lvumo: Linda Nteleza; Sanbuyoh: Andile Tshoni; Kaskadi: Mandisinde Mbuyazwe (u/s Lindile Kula Sr); Mrs l’Komo: Siphamandla Yakupa; Pritschitsch: Xolela Sixaba; Praskowia: Fikile Mthetwa; Chorus: Cape Town Opera Chorus (5–12 September).

2019: Performed in Artscape by AGL Opera, as part of the Suidoosterfees in Cape Town from 25 April to 1 May. The singers included Johannes van Staden-Slabbert as Danilo, Leah Gunter as Anna Glawari, Raimondo van Staden-Slabbert as die Baron Zeta, Lauren Dasappa as Valencienne, Mzi Nodlayiya as Camille Rosillon and Barend van der Westhuizen as Cascada. The operetta was directed by Christine Crouse, choreographed by Sean Bovim, the orchestra directed by Albie van Schalkwyk and designs by Alfred Rietmann.





D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 428, 430

CAPAB theatre programme, 1989.

NAPAC theatre programme (undated).

Petru & Carel Trichardt theatre programme collection.

Copy of the DALRO edition of the Afrikaans libretto by Gideon Roos, found in the Stellenbosch Drama Department archives in 2022.


Wayne Muller. 2018. A reception history of opera in Cape Town: Tracing the development of a distinctly South African operatic aesthetic (1985–2015). Unpublished PhD thesis.

'The Merry Widow of Malagawi: Cape Town Opera.' Classictic. https://www.classictic.com/en/the-merry-widow-of-malagawi-cape-town-opera/31771/

"UK, SA artists make merry at the opera". IOL. 10 January 2006.

Alexandra Xenia Sabina Mossolow. 2003. The career of South African soprano Nellie du Toit, born 1929. Unpublished Masters thesis. University of Stellenbosch.

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