At the dawn of the 20th century, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy witnessed a period of unparalleled peace and largesse. Coined the Belle Époque, the era was defined by frivolity, decadence, and a daily celebration of life. A musical style called “operetta” emerged to celebrate this ease of living. It is looked at as the transition between opera and musical. This was the birthplace of Franz Lehar, the most renowned operetta composer, who gave the world The Merry Widow among numerous other masterpieces. This story was inspired by his life, by his music and by the greatest inspiration of all: his love. For the young, would-be composer Lehar, there is little to celebrate in his dusty, rural hometown where he is the conductor of a small military band. Trapped in the army to make ends meet, Lehar is subjected to the abuse of his commanding officer, the snivelling, social climbing Colonel Bosemich. Lehar’s true musical genius goes unnoticed and uninspired until a wealthy countess, Vilja, arrives in town to host a ball. Although part of the frolicsome aristocracy, Vilja seeks more from life, and she finds it in Lehar’s music. Sensing his talent, Vilja schemes to become Lehar’s muse, hoping to inspire a masterpiece that will leave her a legacy beyond champagne and waltzing. However, the world cannot love him if they cannot see him, so Vilja’s first step is to get Lehar out of his hometown. She secretly assigns her butler, Miska, to accompany Lehar and act as go-between. Lehar is instantly drawn to the radiant Vilja, and before he knows it, Lehar finds himself being transferred to the bohemian seaside town of Trieste – the pearl of the monarchy. Unbeknownst to him, Vilja has coerced the insidious Bosemich into granting this transfer, using her political influence to do so. In Trieste, the flirtation escalates and Lehar develops a secret romance with the more socially prominent Vilja, facilitated by the curmudgeonly Miska. In love for the first time, Lehar begins to compose, even succeeding in gaining some public recognition. But both the romance and the music grind to a halt when Lehar sees Vilja in a way he’s never seen her before—standing next to her husband, an admiral recently returned from sea! Distraught, Lehar leaves Trieste and Vilja, deserting the army and absconding to Vienna, the centre of the musical world, to make his fame and fortune in composing. But Lehar realizes just how deeply he has fallen for Vilja when he can’t even focus enough to write a song, much less an operetta. Supported only by the loyal Miska, his career is on the verge of dying when Vilja shows up once more, this time with news that her husband has been killed at sea. Wanting both to reconnect with Lehar and to jumpstart his moribund career, Vilja consummates the romance with the young composer for the first time. Lehar senses something different about her now—as if she may really be falling in love with him. Inspired, he begins to write an operetta that will become his masterpiece “The Merry Widow.” But before he can finish, Lehar is arrested by military officers for desertion, and the orders have come down from none other than the vindictive Colonel Bosemich. Escaping his holding cell by whistling the guard a tune, Lehar runs from the military prison directly into Bosemich and Vilja, engaged in what looks like a kiss. Upset beyond belief, Lehar flees back to Trieste to seek happier days. But in Trieste, a fellow composer causes Lehar to realize that Vilja had secretly given him all of the ingredients for his success, and that he had misinterpreted Vilja’s intimacy with Bosemich (indeed, Vilja was plying the Colonel to release him, offering her own body in exchange for Lehar’s). Realizing his mistake, Lehar races back to Vienna to finish the masterpiece he began, dedicating the climactic song to his love, calling it simply “The Vilja Song.” At the operetta’s premiere and his own debut to the world, Lehar conducts “The Merry Widow” to Vilja, giving them both what they wanted—she a legacy, he a career. But both end up with something they would have never expected…love.