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7 August, 2020


The Australian Ballet’s production of The Merry Widow has all the elements of a Hollywood film, including a cast of glamorous characters led by the widow herself, Hanna Glawari. With four costume changes, Hanna’s wardrobe reflects the grandeur of the work’s lavish setting. It also works hard to communicate passages of time and the colourful journey of a charismatic central character.

 

Artists of The Australian Ballet in 'The Merry Widow'

 

Artists of The Australian Ballet in The Merry Widow, The Australian Ballet, 1975
Photograph by David Parker
Image courtesy of The Australian Ballet

 

Making The Merry Widow

The Merry Widow was the first full-length work commissioned for The Australian Ballet and was the result of Robert Helpmann’s dream to create a ballet based on Franz Lehár’s famous operetta of the same name. Choreographed by Ronald Hynd, the ballet is set in Paris in 1905 and was designed by Desmond Heeley to reflect the art nouveau style that was fashionable at the time.

Marilyn Rowe danced the role of Hanna when the work premiered at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre in 1975. The famous English ballerina Margot Fonteyn appeared as Hanna during the company’s 1976 New York season. Although in her late 50s at the time, she received rave reviews and performed the role again when the company visited the Philippines later that year and during The Australian Ballet’s national tour in 1977.

 

Marilyn Rowe and John Meehan in The Merry Widow

 

Marilyn Rowe and John Meehan in 'The Merry Widow', The Australian Ballet, 1975
Photograph by David Parker
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

The Costumes

Fonteyn’s costumes for The Merry Widow were donated to the Australian Performing Arts Collection by The Australian Ballet in 1998. Their silk lining still perfectly preserved, the costumes take us back to an exciting time in the company’s history as The Merry Widow took Australia and the world by storm.

 

Dress worn by Margot Fonteyn as Hanna in Act One

 

Dress worn by Margot Fonteyn as Hanna Glawari in Act One, 'The Merry Widow', The Australian Ballet, 1976
Designed by Desmond Heeley
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

The first act takes place at the Pontevedrian Embassy ball where Hanna makes her spectacular entrance in a black, diamante trimmed gown with a sweeping train and a head dress trimmed with a moon and stars. The softer tones and simplistic style of the costume she wears later in that act signals a flashback to Hanna’s girlhood and the memories of her first love, Danilo. He still has the orange silk handkerchief she gave him and it becomes an important prop and story-telling device as their romance is revived.

 

Dress worn by Margot Fonteyn as Hanna in Act One

 

Dress worn by Margot Fonteyn as Hanna Glawari in Act One, 'The Merry Widow', The Australian Ballet, 1976
Designed by Desmond Heeley
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Dress worn by Margot Fonteyn as Hanna Glawari in Act Two

 

Dress worn by Margot Fonteyn as Hanna Glawari in Act Two, 'The Merry Widow', The Australian Ballet, 1976
Designed by Desmond Heeley
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

The second act takes place during a soiree at Hanna’s villa where the guests perform national Pontevedrian dances. Hanna’s costume is in the style of a Pontevedrian folk dress with a fitted velvet bodice trimmed with gold braid and the handkerchief features again in the pas de deux between Hanna and Danilo.

 

Dress worn by Marilyn Rowe as Hanna Glawari in Act Three

 

Dress worn by Marilyn Rowe as Hanna Glawari in Act Three, The Merry Widow, The Australian Ballet, 1975
Designed by Desmond Heeley
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Referencing the famous Parisian restaurant Maxims, the final act of The Merry Widow is presented at Chez Maxime, amidst a vibrant scene of champagne and can-can girls. Hanna makes another show-stopping entrance wrapped in a floor-length cape made of layers of white tulle. The cape is removed to reveal a white gown embroidered with gold thread and trimmed with black velvet ribbons. This costume brings The Merry Widow to an up-lifting end as Hanna and Danilo drink a toast to their future and perform a sweeping Viennese waltz.

The Australian Ballet’s free cinema-quality digital season brings their full-length performances to Australians at home. The Merry Widow is available until 20 August 2020.

Find out more about The Australian Ballet Collection at the Australian Performing Arts Collection.

 

Margot Anderson
Curator, Dance and Opera
Australian Performing Arts Collection

 

Australian Performing Arts Collection logo

 

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