Spring Opera: singing a ‘Merry’ tune

Spring Opera: singing a Merry tune

by Kate Paulman

A kind of early 1900s “Joe Millionaire” without the necklaces, Simpson’s opera production of “The Merry Widow” last weekend told the story of how money can change true love.

In Franz Lehar’s opera, the widow, Hanna Glawari (Amelia Groetsch) inherits 20 million francs when her husband dies. Her native countrymen, the Pontevedrians, decide she must marry a Pontevedrian in order to keep the money in the state.

Baron Mirko Zeta (Craig Irvin), Bogdanovich (Matthew Cody), Kromov (Dan Richardson) and Pritchtich (Anan Smith) are charged with the task of making sure she doesn’t marry a foreigner. They choose Count Danilo Danilovitch (John Moore), a scorned lover turned playboy, as the proper suitor.

Groetsch and Moore both take an obvious command of the stage. Moore, a relative newcomer to the Simpson stage, takes hold of this interesting character. Both he and Groetsch make smooth transitions between dialogue and song, and their chemistry is obvious during their slow waltz scenes.

Groetsch’s voice fills the entire Blank Performing Arts Center. Her dramatic posturing and trembling vibrato may be a bit too much for an audience of college students, though it was perfectly suitable and fitting for this opera.

On the other hand, the sometimes semi-vulgar staging and posturing by Cody and Smith was obviously aimed at a college audience.

This production also has something uncommon outside of professional theater – a group of men singing and dancing well together. The men even take it one step further: they’re not afraid to prance about on stage and perform a kick line that rivals that done by the Grisettes.

Melanie Long, making what Larsen calls her “real main stage debut,” shines as Valencienne, the virtuous wife of Baron Zeta. Valencienne and Camille de Rosillon (Martin Fox) have a secret affair in this tale of love and money.

Long and Fox both have clear, natural voices that blend together well. This mischievous couple also has some of the best on-stage chemistry – Long plays the perfect approach-avoidance lover, and Fox is great as the smooth talking Frenchman.

Heath Huberg and Brandon Hendrickson play two competing French suitors, Raoul St. Brioche and Vicomte Cascada. They bicker with accents that rival the Long John Silver shrimp.

Ben Thompson as Nitch, the Baron’s majordomo, played the role of the hen-pecked servant very well, stealing most of the scenes he was in with great comedic timing.

The costumes are elaborate and colorful, so elaborate that the stage was littered with feathers from the women’s boas 40 minutes into the opera. The sets are examples of understatement and beauty. The orchestra is obviously dedicated and well-practiced.

Around the two-hour mark of this nearly three-hour opera the audience became slightly restless. Yet none of the scenes or songs could have been eliminated as all seemed crucial to plot and character development.

Larsen said the cast had a great time doing this opera, and it shows in the fabulous ensemble cast and their energy. As if the fascinating plot weren’t enough, the cast’s pacing kept the audience interested. While “The Merry Widow” is performed badly more often than other shows, according to Larsen, this production certainly was not and even leaves audience members humming a few tunes.