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Merry Widow

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Film Identifier: F.2011-05-0113
Run Time
0h 23m 57s
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. This film appears to be from around this time, as it features the Gérard costumes. It seems to be segments of a dress rehearsal, as scenery is largely absent from the stage, which is primarily in distant view. Part of the orchestra is occasionally visible as well; the camera appears to have been set up in a balcony for most of the film. 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. The full-scale television treatment (in five scenes) first 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 distant view of stage, on which a well-dressed man and women (presumably the Baron and Baroness Popoff) stand. After the two interact briefly, a servant enters stage and hands the man an object (presumably some sort of letter) and just as the man is about to react to it, the camera cuts to a different segment, in which various couples are arriving to the Marsovian ball thrown for the Baroness Popoff's birthday. Soon, all 6 couples are dancing while two men (perhaps the Baron and Count Jolidon?) survey the group. The camera then cuts again, this time to a segment where most of the guests mill about but a single couple dances together at center; afterwards, all join in again but a man on the sidelines (again, perhaps the Baron?) seems to be reviewing a document and plotting something. The camera cuts to a later segment in which a woman (perhaps the Baroness) is performing a solo at center while several men admire her; it then cuts again to a segment in which these men are grouped to the side of the stage and she dances beside them. Eventually, these men exit, and a man who appears to be Count Jolidon kisses her hand. The two then dance a pas de deux, as he tries to win her affectiions out of sight of the Baron. As they sashay offstage, the camera cuts to a different sequence which is a bit out of focus. Multiple couples dance together onstage, with a single man wandering about among them (perhaps the Baron searching for the Baroness?) and then exiting. Eventually, the camera cuts to a different scene (this time with some scenery), apparently in the garden. A group of six women dance a "traditional" Marsovian dance with bells. A man (presumably Prince Danilo) then enters and is given a spotlight while performing a solo, during which the film cuts to a much closer view, from the floor seats of the auditorium. Following this, Sonia takes her turn in the spotlight, dancing a solo while holding two scarves. During it, the film cuts back and forth between the balcony and floor angles. Afterwards, Danilo and Sonia begin to dance a lively pas de deux together. The camera then cuts to the end of it, such that the two are pulled away from one another, each possessing one of the two scarves she held in the beginning of the scene. The Baroness and then Jolidon enter, alone in the garden. They dance another pas de deux, but before they complete it, the camera cuts to another pas de deux between Sonia and Prince Danilo. Afterwards, the camera cuts to a solo by the Baroness with a paper fan; she is soon rejoined by Jolidon, and they dance together. She gives into his charms, and the camera cuts to two girls dancing with the Baron, soon joined by a second man. Afterwards, both peer through the window back into the ball; the other man exits and the Baron anticipates reentering via a brief solo. After a cut, this sequence is repeated, and continues: the Baron bumps into his wife with Jolidon and that latter two, startled, scurry away. The camera then cuts again to a later scene, which is a bit chaotic. It appears to feature an upset Baron among other couples, including his wife with Jolidon, though the two break apart. Before much is resolved, the camera cuts once again to a different segment, this time a solo by what appears to be Danilo, in front of the curtain. He is joined by two can can dancers, then three more, and eventually a sixth. Distracted, he dances with them. The camera soon cuts again to a later part of the scene, with a chaise lounge on the set and numerous couples with hats on dancing pas de deux. Once they exit, a single couple remains (perhaps Jolidon and the Baroness); they dance together and he carries her offstage. The camera then cuts to a segment with a spotlight on what appears to be Danilo with the nymphs; he dismisses them one at a time, apparently believing the last to be Sonia in nymph form. She dances a solo and he reaches toward her from the chaise. They unite where he sits and dance together; the film ends in the middle of their dream-pas de deux.
Additional Credit
Lehár, Franz (is composer)
May, Hans (music)
Page, Ruth (is choreographer)
Van Grove, Isaac (music)