The IU Opera Theatre production of Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” began with an overture drawn from the operetta and accompanied by projections of paintings and posters from the period.
Right from the first scene at an embassy party in Paris, we’re let in on the problem of the evening. The tiny mythical country of Petrovena is about to go bankrupt and its only hope is to marry the wealthy widow Hanna Glawiri and her considerable fortune to a loyal Petrovenian.
In Saturday night’s cast Scott Skirba, though burdened with a dreadful wig, was effective as the embattled Petrovenian Ambassador. Jasmina Halimic, who kept reminding me of a prettier Carol Burnett, sang the part of his wayward wife. Mark Riemenschneider had a lovely voice but was a bit stiff as the wealthy Parisian that Halimic’s character would like to be wayward with. Creating an appropriate stir with both her elegant presence and lovely singing as the Widow was Christina Bonsall. Nick Provenzale was certainly her equal in both style and command as the playboy Count Danilo that Petrovena was depending upon to wed the widow for himself, and her fortune for the country. Throughout the proceedings Benjamin Czarnota was a hit as the comic embassy clerk.
Guest director Tito Capobianco’s staging for “The Merry Widow” emphasized graceful movement and flow both in the party scenes and the more intimate moments. The handling of the relationship between the reluctant wooer County Danilo and the teasing Widow, Hanna, had just the right amount of dramatic tension. In the final scene of “The Merry Widow” Capobianco showed that at least a couple of the IU opera female singers can do a pretty mean cartwheel and that a good number can join a dance line with style.
The costumes were appropriately luxurious. The delightful excesses of Count Danilo’s fur trimmed cavalry uniform with gold appointments and a red silk lined cape were matched by the yards and yards of silk ribbon accented crinoline that covered Hanna as she made her regal entrance for the final scene.
All in all, “The Merry Widow” was a success. I do quibble that the overture began with a very rough string sound before conductor Imre Pallo settled things into a lovely groove and that from time to time the orchestra was a little too strong or the voices a bit too small for the best dramatic effects. Saturday night’s audience was almost enthusiastic enough for a standing ovation.
The IU Opera Theatre’s production of Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” conducted by Imre Pallo plays this Friday and Saturday at eight.