Vancouver Opera
Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow

Dates and Venue October 20, 25, 27, 2018, at 7:30pm & October 28 at 2pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Conductor Ward Stare Director Kelly Robinson Choreographer Joshua Beamish Chorus Director Kinza Tyrrell Scenic Designer Michael Yeargan Costume Designer Susan Memmott-Allred Lighting Designer Gerald King Wig Designer Susan Manning

Hanna Lucia Cesaroni Count Danilo Danilovitch John Cudia Baron Mirko Zeta Richard Suart Valencienne Sasha Djihanian Camille de Rosillon John Tessier Sylvaine Nicole Joanne Brooks

Dialogue in English, sung in German with English SURTITLES TM

Reviewer John Jane

If The Merry Widow were to be premiered today, it might be simply described as a musical romantic comedy, but despite being considered a lightweight operetta by some aficionados, Franz Lehár’s Die Lustige Witwe has certainly stood the test of time and still enjoys general appeal. That’s perhaps why it was a little surprising to hear in general director Kim Gaynor’s introductory remarks that Vancouver Opera’s last mounting of The Merry Widow was twenty-eight years ago.

Set in Paris during the so-called Belle Époque period at the turn of the twentieth century close to the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The operetta is performed in three unequal acts. It switches between three locations: the Pontevedrian embassy presided over by Baron Mirko Zeta (Richard Suart), Hanna’s garden at her Paris villa, and a replica of Maxim’s club in Hanna’s salon.

Whimsical, even a little frothy, it may be, but at two-and-a-quarter hours performance time and requiring a large cast, Lehár’s chef d'oeuvre would tend to contradict the meaning of operetta (a small opera). It’s choc-full of familiar tunes and an abundance of dance sequences, precisely choreographed by Joshua Beamish.

Soprano Lucia Cesaroni is a tour de force as Hanna Glawari (the titular widow), demonstrating exquisite poise, natural stage presence and no small amount of comic timing. Her reading of the second act showpiece aria, Es lebt eine Vilja stopped the show.

Tenor John Cudia is appropriately nonchalant as the flamboyant Danilo Danilovitch, Hanna’s eventual real love. The chemistry between him and Hanna is tangible, particularly, with their playful duet heia mädel ausgeschaut and of course in dancing the iconic waltz together.

Young Soprano Sasha Djihanian and John Tessier as unrequited lovers, “Baron Zeta respectable wife” Valencienne and her adoring beau Camille de Rosillon sang Wie die blumen in lenze erblüh as if they were meant to be together. Ms. Djihanian later showed off her athleticism as a dancer when joining the Grisettes for the Can-Can in a comédie en vaudevilles sequence.

Under the direction of Maestro Ward Stare, the Vancouver Opera Orchestra chose consistent tempi played with clarity and brio throughout. Their sparkling interpretation of the famous Merry Widow Waltz performed in each of the three acts tempted me to stand up and start dancing in the aisle. The orchestra’s performance was matched by a stellar, (almost entirely) Canadian cast that look every bit as good as they sing.

Although, it might be worth noting, the benefits of switching between Viktor Léon and Leo Stein’s libretto sung in German and the common dialogue delivered in modern English may be open to personal conjecture. Neophytes might appreciate it as a concession to a broader understanding, though I’m sure many purists would believe that such a process contaminates rather enhances the lustre of the work.

The Merry Widow is spectacular entertainment for anyone who enjoys celebrity mingling, diplomatic shenanigans, or just wonderful music in a quality production. Let’s not wait another twenty-eight years before the VO does it again.

© 2018 John Jane