Ballet in Three Acts and Four Scenes

Original Book by Victor Leon and Leo Stein
Choreography by Ronald Hynd
Production and Scenario by Robert Helpmann
Music by Franz Lehár
Orchestration by John Lanchbery
Scenery and Costumes by Desmond Heeley
Lighting by Michael J. Whitfield
Assistants to Mr. Hynd: Annette Page and John Meehan

Act 1 - 36:00
Act 2 - 28:00
Act 3 - 23:00

The Merry Widow was given its World Premiere by The Australian Ballet at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne on November 13, 1975, danced by Marilyn Rowe (Hanna Glawari) and John Meehan (Count Danilo Danilowitch).

The Merry Widow was given its American Ballet Theatre Company Premiere at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York on June 6, 1997, danced by Susan Jaffe (Hanna Glawari) and Jose Manuel Carreno (Count Danilo Danilowitch).

Act I, Scene 1: It is Paris in 1905.
The scene is set inside the Pontevedrian Embassy, where the staff is busy preparing for a ball to be held that evening. Njegus, the ambassador's personal aide, enters carrying a pile of debt notes drawn to finance the ball. There is general lamentation about the country's precarious financial situation. Pontevedro is a tiny state situated deep in the Balkans. The country can ill afford to pay for such an extravagant diplomatic mission in Paris, but the governing aristocrats are notorious free-spenders.

The ambassador, Baron Mirko Zeta, and his young French wife, Valencienne, enter. They are accompanied by Camille de Rosillon, a dashing French diplomat. A telegram arrives that announces that the beautiful Hanna Glawari, a recently widowed Pontevedrian, will be attending the ball that evening. Hanna is worth 20 million francs and, reportedly, is seeking a new husband. However, should she marry a foreigner, Pontevedro would lose the benefit of her wealth and, most certainly, slide into bankruptcy. The First Secretary of the Embassy, Count Danilo Danilowitch, is considered a prospective suitor for the young widow. Such a match is thought to be ideal, as the widow's wealth would then remain in Pontevedro.

The Frenchman Camille and the Ambassador's wife are left alone. His is passionately in love with her, but Valencienne maintains her virtue; she will not be easily seduced and plays hard to get, although she is tempted. Njegus enters and interrupts the couple at a tender moment.

First Secretary Danilo then enters in a somewhat drunken state. Njegus attempts to explain to him that he should try to marry Hanna, but Danilo falls asleep. The Ambassador returns and orders his aide Njegus to ensure that Danilo is sober for the ball. It is imperative that Danilo make a good impression on the wealthy widow that night.

Act I, Scene 2: The scene is set in the Pontevedrian Embassy ballroom.
The beautiful widow Hanna Glawari arrives and the handsome Danilo Danilowitch is presented to her. They are shocked to recognize one another, having been lovers in Pontevedro some ten years earlier. At that time Hanna was a mere peasant girl with whom the aristocratic Danilo was infatuated. However, his parents thought the relationship might be improper given their different class positions and, in deference to his parents' wishes, Danilo broke off the affair. Danilo is amazed to find that his old sweetheart has turned into a glamorous and worldly woman. In his confusion, Danilo mops his forehead with a handkerchief that Hanna recognizes as a keepsake she gave him when they parted.

In a quiet moment Danilo attempts to explain himself and his love for Hanna, but she brushes off his advances, declaring that what he really loves now is her money. She then joins the other guests at supper. Danilo, rebuffed, reminisces about their early romance in Pontevedro in a wonderful dream scene in which he is reunited with the young Hanna of the past.

Following supper, the Ambassador invites the young widow to choose a partner for the first dance. Hanna regrets her earlier rudeness to Danilo and selects him. But, still smarting, he refuses. The Ambassador's wife, Valencienne, urges the Frenchman Camille to dance with Hanna so as to avoid an awkward scene. In the course of changing partners during the dance, Hanna finds herself in the arms of Danilo. It is clear they are still in love.

Act II: The scene is set several days after the ball in the garden of the villa at which Hanna is staying.
Hanna is hosting a soiree to which the diplomatic elite of Paris is invited. The guests celebrate with Pontevedrian national dances, led by Hanna and Danilo.
Just before supper, the Ambassador arranges to meet later that evening with Njegus and Danilo in order to discuss the latter's romantic success with Hanna. Everything appears to being going well, and they enter to join the dinner guests.
The Ambassador's wife, Valencienne, and the Frenchman Camille enter the deserted garden for a moonlit tryst. Valencienne is quickly succumbing to Camille's seduction, and they enter the garden pavilion. But, unbeknownst to them, they are observed by Njegus. At this moment the Ambassador and Danilo return to the scene, and, to their surprise, they witness the adulterous romance while looking through the keyhole of the pavilion door. Njegus locks the door to prevent the Ambassador from attacking the couple. A struggle ensues for the key.

Hanna quietly appears on the scene and observes the situation. To protect Valencienne from her husband, Hanna enters the pavilion through a side door and takes the place of the Ambassador's wife, who quickly slips away. When the Ambassador finally opens the door, he is amazed to see that it is Hanna who was inside with Camille and not his wife. Hanna then announces, to everyone's horror, that she plans to marry Camille. Realizing that such a marriage will send their country into bankruptcy, the Pontevedrians are able to offer only frigid congratulations. The onlookers quickly depart. Danilo is dumbfounded and hesitates before leaving. In a frenzy he throws the handkerchief that Hanna had long ago given him at her feet, then storms off. Hanna picks up the handkerchief, knowing the Danilo truly loves her.

Act III: The scene is set inside Maxim's, the legendary Parisian restaurant.
The Pontevedrian diplomats of Paris have come to drown their sorrows and to spend their last francs in the face of pending economic doom. Camille arrives, hoping to find Valencienne and to remedy circumstances. But Valencienne believes the marriage announcement is true. Everyone jeers Camille. Hanna arrives and takes Camille's arm, which he is not eager to offer. But such a display of affection is too much for Danilo to bear. He comes forward and challenges Camille to a duel. Valencienne cannot bear the idea of Camille being killed and so she intervenes, along with Hanna. It is clear to everyone, including the Ambassador, that Camille and Valencienne are in love.

Everyone finally leaves, except for Hanna, who is left, forlorn, without a companion, her test of Danilo having gone too far. However, Danilo quietly returns and embraces her in his penitent arms.

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