The Merry Widow
Where: Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Somewhat untypically, Vancouver Opera began its latest season with a Viennese confection from yesteryear, Franz Lehár’s 1905 The Merry Widow. It’s an interesting question why, exactly, a bourgeois entertainment from over a century ago is still considered fair game for opera companies. The plot is shallow, the tunes sugary, the values dubious. And yet listeners of sentimental disposition — and companies willing to accommodate that ever-decreasing share of the market — keep Lehár’s marron glacé on the boards. From a critical standpoint, the question really isn’t why do it, but has it been done well?
Like many of the productions of general director Kim Gaynor’s tenure, this Merry Widow is a lavish affair, using sets and extravagant costumes created for Utah Opera and a big cast, including dancers. Director Kelly Robinson has created an obvious, if effective production, as glitzy as the sets and with more than a dash of Mel Brooks vulgarity. Choreographer Joshua Beamish’s work is in the same spirit — nice waltzes, some over-the-top Slavo-Ruritanian folk dance and even a campy French cancan.
The cast is musically tight, though not always on the mark in the extended English language dialogue. Pacing was cautious to the point of sluggishness on opening night, though perhaps this will improve; certainly doing farce in the cavernous Queen Elizabeth Theatre is both an uphill battle and a thankless task.
Musically the enterprise was agreeably consistent. Conductor Ward Stare has made a name for himself with operetta productions in New York and Chicago, and he certainly knows his Lehár. The chorus was solid and a quintet of secondary parts were filled by enthusiastic members of Vancouver Opera’s Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program. Supporting roles sung by soprano Sasha Djihanian and tenor John Tessier were first rate, as was the contribution of operetta veteran Richard Suart.
In this company, tenor John Cudia (previously heard here in last season’s Otello and Evita before that) seemed odd man out, not quite sure of what to make of his admittedly underdeveloped character, and on occasion unable to project over the orchestra. Not that it mattered all that much: the merry widow herself, Lucia Cesaroni, was bold as brass and just as brilliant. Neither libretto, music, nor directorial concept allowed much opportunity for Cesaroni to plumb any hidden depths in her part, but shine she did as she gamely stole the show every chance she got.
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