Lehar’s Frothy Widow Closes Out Season
Opera San Jose
04/17/1999 - and 18, 20, 22*, 23, 24, 25, 27, and 29, April, 1 and 2, May, 1999
Franz Lehar: Die Lustige Witwe
Christina Major/Barbara Divis (Hanna Glawari), Thomas Truhitte/Brian Leerhuber (Count Danilo Danilowitsch), Christopher Dickerson/Andrew Solovay (Baron Mirko Zeta), Sandra Rubalcava/Dana Johnson (Valencienne), David Robinson/Robert McPherson (Camille de Rosillon), Joseph Wright/Joshua La Force (Viscount Cascada), Adam Flowers/Joseph Muir (Raoul de St. Brioche), Joshua La Force/Joseph Wright (Bogdanowitsch), Roseanne Ackerly (Sylviane), Jim DeLaHunt (Kromow), Patrice Houston (Olga), Jerome Dixon (Pritschitsch), Wendy Morgan Hunter (Praskowia), Ray Reinhardt (Njegus)
Opera San Jose Orchestra, David Rohrbaugh (Conductor)
Daniel Helfgot (Director)
To finish off the current season on a light, upbeat note, Opera San Jose produced Franz Lehar’s perennial favorite, The Merry Widow, sung in the original German but using English for the dialogue. Viennese operettas, for all their easy charm and melodic appeal, are not such easy works to stage successfully. And while the current production has its problems, on the balance, Opera San Jose scores an overall success with this Merry Widow.
Musically, this Widow was on solid ground with David Rohrbaugh leading a stylish, lilting performance that brought out the grace and charm of the score. The only flaw was a tendency to overpower the singers, forcing some of them to over-sing somewhat. But his sense of rubato, tempi choices and orchestral balance brought to life this delightful score.
In his staging, Daniel Helfgot providing an unobtrusive, supportive staging for the singers while allowing their individuality as performers to shine. Helfgot made good use of Giulio Perrone’s sets, despite their hyperactive visual elements and a lack of sufficient floor space for anything approaching a Viennese waltz. There were occasional misguided attempts at a crass level of humor out of keeping with the style of the music and setting, but there were also plenty of charm and polish that outweighed such errors.
Barbara Divis seemed very much at ease in the title role, allowing her a degree of vocal freedom and warmth not always evident. She also seemed to truly enjoy playing Hanna and that delight carried over the footlights, making the widow’s evident appeal to both the eligible and ineligible men in Paris completely convincing.
As Count Danilo Danilowitsch, Brian Leerhuber’s hallmark robust tone and confident, charismatic presence were very much in evidence. But the role lies high for the young baritone and more than once the vocal line was rewritten to avoid the highest notes. Leerhuber was not adverse to playing up the humorous side of the role but managed to still make Danilo a credible romantic lead and resisted carrying the humor too far.
Robert McPherson’s Camille de Rosillon and Dana Johnson’s Valencienne were a well-matched pair. Both exhibited the kind of sweet-toned singing and ardent presence to lend credibility to the plot. Together they had the kind of natural rapport to carry off both the playful and the romantic aspects of their on-stage affair and played off each other well.
Joshua LaForce’s natural acting abilities were stronger than his vocal ones, but he carried off the role of the Viscount Cascada with great panache. Ray Reinhardt took full advantage of the comic possibilities in the role of the baron’s servant, Njegus, sometimes to great effect, sometimes to excess.
Perrone’s imposing settings were visually striking but failed to capture the lightness of touch and graceful flow of Lehar’s score. Indeed, the twisting, spiraling greenery that climbed the Act II garden set created so restless a visual element that it constantly called attention to itself and away from the performers.
Allison Conner’s costumes were very much an improvement over those of the previous production several years ago, but failed to capture the same sense of style the company’s production of that other quintessential Viennese Die Fledermaus costumes displayed. Instead an inconsistent approach and a lack of color focus competed with the set for attention.