THE Merry Widow is a fun opera, well operetta, as it has lots of spoken dialogue and could even be called a play with music. Either way it's an entertaining and enjoyable piece.

Set in the early 20th century against the background of a declining Austro-Hungarian Empire, this show first came to stage in 1905, nine years before World War 1 and in some way reflects the financial tensions of the nation states that led to that bloody onslaught.

Written by Franz Lehar with the story and lyrics by Victor Leon and Leo Stein, the delightful action is set in Paris, in the embassy of an imagined state called Pontevedro, which is poverty stricken. A banker has usurped lots of the country's money and married a penniless young woman called Hanna (Katie Bird).

The banker died after seven days of marriage and sensuous Hanna (now a very rich, young widow) has arrived in Paris on the lookout for a new man. The narrative is that the Pontevedrian ambassador (Geoffrey Dolton) has to dissuade Hanna from taking a French husband because her money taken out of Pontevedro would bankrupt the country.

We get plotting, scheming, farce, misunderstandings, dancing (traditional and the can-can) and extra-marital intrigues in this tasty gamut of a story that is played out on a single set with the aid of moveable Art Nouveau nude female statues and cut-out chandeliers that are lowered to create spaces.

All very minimalist but the costumes of the dancers and singers are stunning. Likewise the singing.

Soprano Katie Bird is superb. Despite being surrounded by predatory men we see true love triumph in the shape of the baritone Danilo (Quirijn de Lang), a Pontevedrian. Together they are excellent. As an ensemble piece (a 40-plus cast), soprano Amy Freston gives tremendous support as does baritone Geoffrey Dolton and tenor Nicholas Watts.

Conductor Martin André deserved the rapturous applause at the end.

Ed Waugh