It is the year 1904. In Germany, an emperor is ruling, and farmers are demanding better protection from foreign competition for their produce. In Berlin there is the International Congress of Women, and, in Cottbus, a certain Rosa Luxemburg is given a three-month prison sentence for lèse-majesté, for insulting the ruler. In Vienna, Franz Lehár is putting the finishing touches on an operetta score that will go down in history.
THE MERRY WIDOW, when it premiered in 1905, established a new genre: the modern, erotically charged operetta. That is one reason why alone during the period from 1905 up to Lehar’s death in 1948, the piece was performed well over 300,000 times and was repeatedly filmed.
With melodies such as the Vilja song or the hit I’m off to chez Maxim, THE MERRY WIDOW shaped the musical taste of more than one whole generation; and if during the Emperor’s reign a certain prudishness, also in dress, passed for chic, under the ruffled collars or guard uniforms, people harboured very different kinds of passion. But love remained unspoken. It’s no wonder that an operetta in which a woman is holding the reins and in which, from the start, partygoers clearly flirt with her with dubious intentions, served to let off steam. THE MERRY WIDOW was the modern counterpart to Prussian inhibition and was our great-grandmother’s dreamworld, which still reveals much about our Germanness, and anyway, is a whole lot of fun.
THE MERRY WIDOW will be Aron Stiehl’s fourth production in Bonn after THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, DIE FLEDERMAUS, and IWEIN LÖWENRITTER. In the meantime, he became Intendant in Klagenfurt.