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Merry Widow [1958]

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Film Identifier: F.2011-05-0180
Run Time
0h 50m 0s
Date Produced
"The Merry Widow" (originally "Vilia") is a ballet choreographed by Ruth Page, based on the operetta by Franz Lehár. It was first premiered in Manchester, England at the Palace Theatre on April 30, 1953 by the London Festival Ballet. Lehár's score was arranged by Isaac Van Grove and Hans May, with scenery and costumes by Georges Wakhévitch. The ballet's first U.S. performance was in Chicago at the Lyric Theatre on November 16, 1955 by the Chicago Opera Ballet (with Alicia Markova as the widow); scenery and costumes for that version were designed by Rolf Gérard. The Merry Widow then opened in New York City at the Broadway Theatre on December 20, 1955. Additional key performances of The Merry Widow occurred in 1956 (Marjorie Tallchief as the widow) and 1962 (Sonia Arova as the widow and Rudolf Nureyev as Prince Danilo). The ballet's first television appearance was in 1958, when the Marsovian scene appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show (CBS) on April 6. This film appears to be a rehearsal of the ballet from the 1958 tour of Ruth Page's Chicago Opera Ballet, though its stars (Sonia Arova and Job Sanders) had been hired for the 1957 tour. The full-scale television treatment (in five scenes) eventually aired on Chicago's WTTW and PBS in spring of 1983 (Patricia McBride as the widow, Peter Martins as Prince Danilo, 30 members of the New York City Ballet); Ruth Page appears in the telecast as narrator.
The film opens with a view of a stage, on which a couple (presumedly the Baron and Baroness Popoff) seem to receive an announcement document or guest list from a servant (the Baroness also has a paper fan), after which a number of couples enter for a ball. This includes Count Jolidon, who the Baron does not seem pleased to see; he stands off to the side to chat as the couples all begin dancing. They continue, with a few switch-outs among partners, as the Baron begins to compete with Jolidon for his wife's attention. All the women then exit, leaving all the men to admire the Merry Widow herself (Sonia) as she arrives. She dances a solo as they look on, at times dancing their own ensemble dance as they follow her around and eventually offstage. Then, a group of young women enters and spreads throughout the stage. They are soon joined by a single young man (presumably Prince Danilo), who dances a solo while the women dance as an ensemble. He dances briefly with each of them, and eventually two other men (one of whom is the Baron) enter to join them. When the women leave, the Baron points out Sonia as she enters (followed by a group of admiring men), encouraging Danilo to pursue her for her money. Danilo refuses, ignoring the document the Baron's sidekick waves in his face. Still, he is captivated when she reenters and dances another solo. When they're left alone, it becomes clear that the two are ex-lovers cautiously becoming reacquainted; what follows is a long pas de deux. As they exit, three couples from the ball enter, followed by three more after them. The Baron enters and dances with two young women; after him, Count Jolidon enters and dances with the Baroness at the center of five surrounding couples. They soon exit and are replaced by another couple, at which point the Baron enters and admires a few of the young women before exiting again. Just after this, a garden scene begins and a row of young women dance a "traditional" Marsovian dance while some of the others look on. Then Prince Danilo enters and dances a brief solo; Sonia enters after him and dances one of her own, during which she holds two scarves. Afterwards, the two dance a pas de deux based in competitive jumping and turning. The lookers-on congratulate them as she gives him one of her scarves as a sign of love--and the two are pulled apart. Afterwards, the Baroness reenters alone and dances a brief solo; she is then joined by Jolidon and the two dance a pas de deux. As they exit, Sonia and Danilo reenter and dance another pas de deux of their own, during which they seem to fall in love again. When he carries her offstage, the Baroness returns with her paper fan and once again Jolidon joins her; this time, he finally wins her over so she follows him offstage. Afterwards, a group of women enters, one of whom is dancing with the Baron, but she is stolen away by another young man. The two who remain then dance with him instead. Then, another man peers through the back curtain, which catches the Baron's attention, so he follows suit. He then becomes excited and dances a brief excited solo (perhaps thinking he sees Danilo with Sonia), only to bump into his wife with Jolidon. As the two rush off again, the Baron is joined by Danilo. By the time Jolidon comes back into view, he has switched out his partner and instead kisses the hand of Sonia, which highly upsets Danilo. Behind them, several groups of dancers emphasize the range of emotions occurring. Danilo dances an angry solo around this new "couple" at center, while the Baron is overwhelmed with relief. Everyone is dismayed together, however, when Danilo throws Sonia's scarf (and symbol of love) down at her feet before exiting. The camera soon cuts to the next scene, in which there is a bench (standing in for a bed) on the stage; Danilo enters and dances a brief solo before being joined by two can-can girls. Four more girls soon join, dancing around him and then with him. Unfulfilled by their charms, Danilo runs off; they exit as well. Immediately afterwards, six couples enter stage and dance pas de deux (it is unclear whether the women are meant to be nymphs or attendees from the ball). While they dance, a final couple enters and embraces in the back; Danilo then enters alone, taking repose on the bench as the dancing couples exit and the couple in the back (now clearly Jolidon and the Baroness Popoff) begins a pas de deux of their own. Danilo only awakens as they exit; he then sees four nymphs standing posed, with their hands covering their eyes. He checks all four (but none are Sonia) and they exit, after which Sonia as a nymph (Vilia) enters and catches his attention. Danilo reaches for her while she dances her solo, and she eventually comes to his spot on the bench and initiates a pas de deux. Vilia eventually exits, and when Danilo awakens from his dream, the can-can girls are back and flirting with him. Eventually, the Baron, Baroness, Count, and several others intervene, sending the girls away and forcing Danilo to confront the real Sonia. She is able to explain that it was really the Baroness with Jolidon, so the two are reconciled and surrounded by other happy couples. The two dance a loving final waltz, soon joined by the other couples, including the Baron and Baroness (and the Count). The film ends as the waltz does.
Additional Credits
Page, Ruth (is choreographer)
Actors, Performers and Participants
Arova, Sonia (is performer)
Johnson, Kenneth (is performer)
Schick, Charles (is performer)
Sanders, Job (is performer)
Tempest, Doreen (is performer)