Vancouver Opera began its season last evening with a production of Franz Lehár’s Die lustige Witwe(The Merry Widow) as joyous and bubbly as anything they have done in a long time.
The sets for all three acts were beautifully and tastefully done. The third act, set in Hanna’s recreation of Maxim’s, looked especially sumptuous. All the singers acted well and looked their parts. I thought that the lighting by Gerald King – giving the sets a magical glow - was particularly effective. I was grateful that director Kelly Robinson stayed true to the composer’s intent, and did not cheapen the work of falling into the trap of using art to further any political or social causes – something that seems to be the norm in opera and theatre today.
Legendary record producer Walter Legge, responsible for the casting of some of the 20thcentury’s greatest opera recordings, was reportedly extremely picky about casting singers for operettas. I do think that in operetta, the singers have to be well casted to bring the music and drama across. Lucia Cesaroni was a wonderfully vivacious Hanna Glawari, with a voice that meets Lehár’s musical and dramatic demands. John Tessier’s portrayal of Camille de Rosillon (the tenor who didn't get the girl, or did he?) was for me another high point in last night’s performance. In fact, I thought that vocally, Tessier’s voice was most suited to his role in this production. In Act Two, the Marsch-Septett“Wie die Weiber…man behandelt?” was sung with a sort of controlled abandon and genuine humour, and deservedly brought down the house. I am convinced that this ensemble is the inspiration for “This is It”, the final chorus of the Looney Tunes cartoon.
John Cudia looks the part of Danilo Danilovitch, and his acting was effective and truly comical. However, his voice just did not project in the cavernous space of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. This was unfortunate, because it was obvious that his singing was musical and tasteful. This imbalance was especially apparent when he and Cesaroni sang together. Once again, last night’s performance was yet another reminder of how desperatelyVancouver needs a real opera house.
I liked conductor Ward Stare’s pacing of the work. His timing in the music was very good; he conducted sensitively, and he brought out wonderful playing from the Vancouver Opera orchestra (again, within the confines of the hall’s very dry and imperfect acoustics). It was only in the famous waltzes that the playing betrayed its lack of “Viennese-ness”.
All in all, it was a very good beginning of the opera season. Operettas are notoriously difficult to bring across in a convincing manner. Kudos to Vancouver Opera for giving us this tasteful, musical, humourous, and tasteful production of a classic work.
Now, coming back to that opera house for Vancouver…