It’s crème Chantilly rather than Schlagobers as the greatest Viennese operetta of the 20th century goes back to its literary roots and is presented in French guise by the Opéra de Lyon The heroine of La Veuve joyeuse is called Missia Palmieri, but she had started off in 1905 as Hanna Glawari in Vienna, where this operetta is known as Die lustige Witwe; its French premiere followed in 1909. The story of the merry widow and her rekindled romance with dissipated diplomat Count Danilo takes place in Paris – notably chez Maxim’s in the final act – and in fact has its roots in a French play, L'attaché d'ambassade by Henri Meilhac. With Ludovic Halévy, Meilhac was the librettist of Carmen, a number of Offenbach’s operettas and a play called Le Réveillon, which forms the basis of that other supreme Viennese operetta Die Fledermaus. Johann Strauss’ waltzes and polkas were clearly an influence on Lehár, but his sumptuous and often touching score also frequently furnishes reminders that he was a contemporary both Richard Strauss and Giacomo Puccini. This production, mounted in December 2007 at the Opéra de Lyon (the source of Virgin Classics’ DVD of Offenbach’s La Vie parisienne in a riotous contemporary updating by Laurent Pelly) is by the French director Macha MakeIeff. She treats the work as the masterpiece it is: ”Macha Makeleff’s reading … turns its back on the conventions of operetta frippery, of musical champagne bubbles to keep the crowds happy … In defining the personalities of the two lovers – two wounded birds who have put up barriers to protect themselves from love – she brings depth and gravity to the work, giving it new stature.” (Le Progrès) In the title role is the leading French lyric soprano, the graceful Véronique Gens, whose two Tragédienne recitals are on Virgin Classics; her Danilo is the dashing British baritone Ivan Ludlow, while the roles of the secondary pair of errant lovers are played by the Canadian tenor Gordon Gietz and the delightful Magali Léger, with the latter’s long-suffering husband portrayed by François Le Roux, a proverbially elegant and witty singer. Conducting is Gerard Korsten, born in South Africa but with long experience and performer in Austria, notably Salzburg.