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Graeme Murphy speaks about his lush production of

“The Merry Widow”

My first formal dance step was definitely a waltz. It was most certainly in a community hall in country Tasmania and my mum Betty was, as always, at an upright piano pumping out the 3/4 rhythm of a progressive barn dance. I was perhaps 9 years old and would have stepped on the toes of many a farmer’s wife.

The first time I heard the iconic Merry Widow waltz was on a tinny music box at my Uncle Hinton’s house in the big smoke, Launceston. Little did I know how often that waltz and I would get together!

Fast forward and I am waltzing in one of The Australian Ballet’s most successful ballets, The Merry Widow – choreographed by Ronald Hynd, directed by Sir Robert Helpmann, with a wordless score adapted by and conducted by John Lanchbery, and starring, among other luminaries, Dame Margot Fonteyn.

With The Australian Ballet, I waltzed through countless performances and thousands of miles, from the London Palladium to Broadway’s Shubert Theater and beyond. I remember joking with Janet Vernon, my sometimes dance partner, my current creative associate, and my always life partner, that we were doomed to waltz in ‘The Weary Meadow’ till our legs became stumps!

Fast forward to now and…SHE’S BACK, once again filling my life not just with lush orchestration but this time with vocal magic and sparkling dialogue. What an absolute pleasure to be working with State Opera under Stuart Maunder’s artistic direction, ASO and conductor Wyn Davies. How thrilling to have Justin Fleming’s new adaptation which respects the original while injecting pace and clarity. This clarity is reflected in the elegant Art Deco set design by Michael Scott-Mitchell, which transports us to a world far from the babble of the now. Costume designer Jennifer Irwin drapes the cast in dreams that float through subconscious memory and lighting design by Damien Cooper paints this lost world with faceted mirrors and shards of impressionistic gossamer.

If this all sounds escapist, how right you are! Yet, there is at the heart of this operetta a grounding force: our protagonists Hanna and Danilo, who because of proud vanity risk losing the great love of their lives – each other. The Merry Widow touchingly reminds us of the universal and all-pervasive need to love and be loved.

To you, dear audience, I offer a warm invitation to submit to an amazing cast in the service of a timeless musical gem.


Director & Choreographer