The Merry Widow


Gizella Witkowsky and Serge Lavoie as Hanna Glawari and Count Danilo Danilowitsch in The Merry Widow (1994). Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.


Our History

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Desmond Heeley designed the sets and costumes for The Merry Widow which premiered on November 8, 1986 as a part of the National Ballet’s 35th anniversary season. It is one of the largest productions in the company’s repertoire and is known for its opulent sets and costumes.

Desmond Heeley with then Production Director Dieter Penzhorn viewing set maquette of The Merry Widow  (1986). 

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Desmond Heeley’s lavish sketch of Two Guests was selected as the feature image in one of the National Ballet’s most popular posters.

Poster featuring Desmond Heeley sketch (1986). 

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The National Ballet’s premiere performance of The Merry Widow featured Principal Dancer Karen Kain and Guest Artist John Meehan in the lead roles of Hanna Glawari and Count Danilo Danilowitsch. Meehan was the original creator of the role of Count Danilo with Australian Ballet in 1976 and was invited to recreate the role for the National Ballet.

John Meehan and Karen Kain in The Merry Widow (1986). 

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In 1998 the National Ballet took The Merry Widow to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. The role of Hanna Glawari was danced by Principal Dancers Greta Hodgkinson, Martine Lamy, and Ottawa native Jennifer Fournier.

Ottawa Citizen review (January 23, 1998). 

 Read the review  

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The Merry Widow returned as part of the National Ballet’s 50th Anniversary season. Then Artistic Director James Kudelka said it was “A toast of champagne to the 50th Anniversary season and especially to Desmond Heeley who has done so much for us over the years.”

The Merry Widow 50th Anniversary program (November 2001). 

Your Stories

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"As the Wardrobe Coordinator for the National Ballet I spend most of each performance wandering around in the dark backstage waiting for things to go wrong. I am armed with a plethora of safety pins, a handy pair of sharp scissors, a flashlight and several already threaded sewing needles. I clearly remember several vivid moments of several ballets, and not necessarily because of the dancing! In the early days of The Merry Widow there was a very memorable wardrobe moment. There is a very romantic Pas de Deux danced by Valencienne and her beaux Camille (performed for us that night by Caroline Richardson and Peter Ottmann) danced out in the garden by the gazebo. On this particular Sunday matinee, Valencienne's lace hem got caught on the row of military buttons on Camille's uniform jacket. Quick on his feet, Peter tried to rip off the lace hem to detach himself from Caroline, but this just led to more lace coming off the hem because the lace was very strong. As they danced more and more lace unravelled from the dress and it started to look like festive bunting draped all over Caroline's legs as she arabesqued. Both Peter and Caroline must have been completely distracted trying to figure out how to deal with yards of lace entwining them as they danced but it never showed. I, in the meantime was watching from the wings. I knew I had my scissors handy but was not about to make my National Ballet stage debut to go to them and help cut the lace off. As I watched more lace unravel I sent someone to get my larger scissors, in case they decided to come to the wings for my assistance. But no, they kept dancing. They finished the Pas de Deux as if nothing had happened, Peter bent down and gathered up an armful of lace, they bowed for a standing ovation and thunderous applause from the entire audience and slipped away into the gazebo to continue their secret rendezvous.
The next day we cut all the lace off all the Valencienne dresses.
I still meet people who tell me they were there for the show with all the lace. My Mom was in the audience and will tell you what she saw and Peter Ottmann tells the story wonderfully from a whole different perspective."

- Ms. Barbara de Kat, Wardrobe Coordinator, 1985 to present 

"My favourite memory of The National Ballet of Canada is the first performance of the new production of The Merry Widow with Karen Kain as the widow. The music of this opretta is enough to put a smile on any face but the whole performance left me mesmerized and transported me in a dream world. It took me a few days to come out of it."

- Talenti Anna, Audience Member, 20+ Years 

"The Merry Widow with Karen Kain was a wonderful ballet. It had everything, superb dancing, great scenery, beautiful costumes and an interesting story. The whole ensemble was exciting and the humour was delicious. Thanks for the memory."

- Mrs. E. Barbara Hambly, Audience Member, 30+ Years