The Gran Teatre del Liceu’s July revival of The Merry Widow after a 37-year absence, albeit in a reduced concert version, disappointed diehard operetta aficionados. Concert versions are a usual feature in any opera house's season planning, but the version performed last night left a lot to be desired. With the established concert format, surtitles are not always enough for the audience to follow the storyline, especially if the language sung is not local, so local language narration is usually on hand to help the story along. With an absence of the dialogues and some musical editing in this operetta, the impression was more of attending a gala of musical highlights.

Josep Pons © Igor Cortadellas
Josep Pons
© Igor Cortadellas

Josep Pons brought out the best the orchestra had to offer with some beautiful melodic moments, although the real “sway” associated with the Viennese Waltz was generally lacking. Perhaps there was just a degree of unfamiliarity with the work and too little time to rehearse for orchestra and singers, an issue evident with some of them appearing on stage holding an open score.

The chorus sang robustly, but with excessive volume at times, the only explanation being an attempt to sing over the orchestra occupying the greater part of the stage. In fact it had lent the production three primary male voices; José Luis Casanova as Zeta, Omar Jara as Viscount Cascada and Emili Rosés as Raoul de Sant Brioche. Six of their number also found themselves playing the part of the can-can girls at the beginning of Act 3. The male roles appeared demanding for the singers chosen.

It was generally difficult to hear Jara and Rosés, especially in the initial trio with Angela Denoke’s Hanna, whose vocal presence and projection outshone her “suitors” in that scene. She gave a strong performance of both Hanna's “Vilja Lied” and “Lippen schweigen, 's flüstern Geigen” in the duet with Danilo but her sober interpretation was at variance with the vivacious Hanna seen elsewhere. Whilst having a firm central column to her voice, Ms Denoke did seem to strain in the higher registers.

Ben Bliss (the 2015 Placido Domingo prizewinner for best young talent in the Francesc Viñas Singing Competition in Barcelona) and Vanessa Goikoetxea (Valencienne) sang the more homogenous duets of the evening and although Mr Bliss is new to the role of Camille de Rosillon, Valencienne’s amorous pretender, he performed capably with a sound vocal register. Ms Goikoetxea interpreted her flirtatious role very well with a strong stage presence and a comfortable and confident vocal performance. They complemented each other well vocally and as characters made a visually appealing couple.

Without a doubt Bo Skovhus stole the show. He has performed the role of Danilo over 200 times and assumes the role with ease. He may be criticised for overacting, but he was successful in creating a very believable playboy character in all his moods, from his drunken entry “Da geh' ich zu Maxim" to his embittered song of betrayal “Es waren zwei Königskinder” at the end of Act 2. He is a mature baritone with a range and timbre to match.

Although received enthusiastically, it was clear that the format of the event and the general quality of the singers' performances limited any lasting sense of euphoria.