Story: Fatherless Prince Karl Franz, heir to the kingdom of Karlsberg, is sent by his grandfather King Ferdinand incognito to the University of Heidelberg to live as an ordinary student and also to improve his social skills. He’s accompanied by his beloved tutor, Dr. Engel, along with his stuffy valet Lutz and Lutz’s own assistant Hubert.
Karl Franz quickly makes friends with a trio of young students who encourage him to join them on their rounds of drinking and carousing. He also becomes smitten with Kathie, a waitress and the niece of Ruder, owner of the rustic Inn of the Three Gold Apples.
Karl Franz and Kathie soon fall in love, but there are complications. After all, Kathie is a commoner. Also, the prince has been engaged since childhood to the Princess Margaret, although he has never met her. Additionally, Kathie says that an older cousin in another village has proposed marriage to her.
When King Ferdinand takes ill, Karl Franz is visited by Princess Margaret and her mother, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, with news that he must go back home for his marriage to Margaret. Karl Franz promises Kathie that he will soon return, but a couple of years go by all too quickly. With his grandfather’s death, Karl Franz is now king and constantly under surveillance.
However, when he hears the news of Dr. Engel’s death in Heidelberg, Karl Franz makes the journey there and soon inquires about Kathie. Before he can catch up with her, Margaret meets Kathie for the first time. Although Margaret also loved another, she now is in love with the king and asks Kathie to refuse any wedding proposal from Karl Franz.
Kathie complies with Margaret’s request. The king then announces his plans to marry Princess Margaret, but not before he and Kathie vow their eternal love to each other, even though they will remain apart.
Highlights: Winter Opera St. Louis opened its 11th anniversary season last weekend with an enchanting rendition of Sigmund Romberg’s operetta, The Student Prince. Strong vocal performances by Caitlin Cisler as Kathie and John Stephens as Dr. Engel enhanced this sprightly production.
Other Info: Stage director Dean Anthony did a fine job keeping this light-hearted, entertaining piece moving at a comfortable pace, aided by a cast that was fully committed to its roles, both musically and as actors. The work’s prologue and four acts, which were composed by Romberg with book and lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly, were performed around a single intermission, crisply done in two and a half hours.
Conductor Scott Schoonover led a spirited reading of the score by the Winter Opera orchestra, bringing an airy interpretation which accented the show’s comic moments while also supporting several fine vocal turns.
Chief among those was Cisler’s performance as Kathie. Soprano Cisler demonstrated a smooth, lovely voice which augmented the operetta’s more intriguing moments, such as the Deep in My Heart, Dear duet with Andrew Marks Maughan as Karl Franz.
Tenor Maughan offered an ingratiating performance as the love-struck prince, who thoroughly enjoys life as a student and then finds his true love with the local waitress Kathie. He blended well, too, with St. Louis native John Stephens as Dr. Engel, whose powerful, persuasive voice worked handsomely on the upbeat piece In Heidelberg Fair and others in the show.
Karla Hughes shined as Kathie’s boisterous colleague Gretchen and Will Macarthy did well in the role of the loyal Hubert. Gary Moss amused in the role of the pompous Lutz, while director Anthony suitably doubled in the part of Count von Mark, the prime minister of Karlsberg. Ellen Hinkle was an understanding Princess Margaret, another character stifled in true love.
Others contributing to the production’s success were Joel Rogier, Zachary Devin and Clark Sturdevant as Karl Franz’s student pals Lucas, Detlef and von Asterberg, respectively. Karen Kanakis capably portrayed Grand Duchess Anastasia and Jacob Lassetter was solid as Ruder. Ryan Keller did well as Tarnitz, the captain who loves Princess Margaret, with Victoria Menke as Countess Leyden, lady in waiting to the princess.
Scott Loebl’s scenic design featured some panoramic background paintings along with an appearance of an old German college town, with Jon Ontiveros providing lighting. JC Krajicek dressed everyone in suitable finery for both upper and lower classes, with a notable assist from wig and makeup designer Jessica Dana.
Winter Opera next offers its traditional Holidays on the Hill in concerts on December 5 and 6 at Dominic’s, 5101 Wilson Avenue. The company then returns to the Viragh Center on the Chaminade campus on January 26 and 28 for performances of Bizet’s Les Pecheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers). Visit www.winteropera.org or call 865-0038 for additional information.
Opera: The Student Prince
Group: Winter Opera St. Louis
Venue: Skip Viragh Center for Performing Arts, Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 South Lindbergh
Dates: Run concluded
Photos courtesy of Winter Opera