Story: Hanna Glawari is the wealthiest widow in the tiny nation of Pontevedria. The country is in such dire straits economically that Pontevedrian countryman Baron Zeta believes it is imperative that a proper suitor from his nation be found to wed Hanna and thus keep her wealth in their country. He hopes to arrange such a match at a ball he is holding in honor of his nation’s emperor at the Pontevedrian embassy in Paris.
Zeta decides that the best man for the job is Count Danilo Danilovitsch, unaware that the Count and Hanna had once been lovers. They had wanted to marry but the Count’s uncle forbade the marriage because Hanna was a poor country girl. Now, although she’s quite wealthy, the Count refuses to wed her because he is too proud to marry for money.
While Baron Zeta is in a tizzy over what do, his charming wife Valencienne coyly flirts with the handsome French aristocrat Camille, Count de Rosillon, who inscribes “I Love You” on her fan, which she then loses. While Valencienne searches desperately for the incriminating fan, Zeta finds it. He concludes that it belongs to someone’s unfaithful wife and sends his emissary Njegus out to determine who the guilty parties (wife and lover) are.
Will Zeta find a suitable Pontevedrian match for Hanna? And will he learn the true identity of the married woman with the missing fan? And what does Hanna have to say about all of this?
Highlights: Winter Opera St. Louis began its 10th anniversary season last weekend with the company premiere of Franz Lehar’s engaging, early 20th century comic opera, The Merry Widow. A spirited reading of Lehar’s score by conductor Scott Schoonover and the Winter Opera orchestra, along with delightful performances by its lead performers, made The Merry Widow a jolly good time for all.
Other Info: Stage director Dean Anthony elicited winning performances from several players in his cast from both vocal and comic perspectives. Kurtis Shoemake did his best to steal the show with a pinpoint interpretation of Zeta’s somewhat independent embassy clerk Njegus. Shoemake’s expressions and movements extracted the humorous treasures in the part while he put his baritone to good use as well.
Mezzo-soprano Holly Janz made her Winter Opera debut a memorable one, showcasing perhaps the production’s finest voice as the flirtatious Valencienne. She worked well in consort with the talented tenor Jack Swanson as the swashbuckling and smitten Camille, who falls instantly under the influence of the coquettish Valencienne. Janz also shared humorous moments with baritone Gary Moss, who played the part of the buffoonish Zeta to the hilt with amusing comic effect and sang credibly to boot.
Kathy Pyeatt showcased her sturdy and steady soprano admirably in the title role, but beyond that demonstrated a surprisingly engaging talent for comedy, too. She was particularly appealing in scenes with Clark Sturdevant as the elusive Count Danilovitsch, in which the two sparkled with fine on-stage chemistry.
The production included suitable supporting work by Michael Oelkers, Ryan Keller, Leann Schuering, Zachary Devin, Joel Rogier, Emily Moses, Jacob Lassetter and Victoria Menke.
Scott Loebl’s impressive scenic design featured a different set for each of the three acts, including the French embassy in Act I, a garden villa in Act II where Hanna entertains her guests with some Pontevedrian folk dances and a facsimile of the famed Parisian nightclub Maxim’s, the Count’s favorite hangout, for Act III. Loebl utilized suitable backdrops for each of the scenes as well as fanciful décor of the stage itself in each act.
Sean Savoie added the well-appointed lighting design and JC Krajicek’s costume design handsomely adorned characters in a variety of colorful costumes, especially for the folk dancers in the garden. Laura Skroska’s property design and Sara Thuer’s wigs and makeup enhanced the overall polish of the presentation.
Schoonover, with the accompaniment of collaborative pianist Robert Valentine, led the Winter Opera orchestra in a splendid reading of Lehar’s upbeat and quickly paced score, ensuring that the performance never lagged in its musical interludes.
Winter Opera next offers its traditional “Holidays on the Hill” in concerts on December 6 and 7 at Dominic’s, 5101 Wilson Avenue. The company then returns to the Viragh Center on the Chaminade campus on January 27 and 29 for performances of Rossini’s La Cenerentola. Visit www.winteropera.org or call 865-0038 for additional information.
Opera: The Merry Widow
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