5 November 2005: Léhar, The Merry Widow

Valley Light Opera. Amherst Regional High School. English lyrics adapted by Michael Greenebaum; book by Greenebaum. Stage director, Greenebaum. Music director and conductor David Kidwell. Choreographer Graham Christian

The Centennial of Léhar’s romantic light opera led the VLO to depart from its usual Gilbert and Sullivan fare for this year’s production. As always, the VLO does five performances over two weekends (successive Friday and Saturday nights, plus a Sunday matinee the first weekend). Last night, the second perform­ance, showed the company to be in fine shape and enjoying its own performance even more than an enthusiastic audience did. I have to admit I liked it greatly myself, even though my persistent complaint was that I couldn’t understand most of the lyrics. (As director of the VLO Ruddigore last year, I drilled my singers and actors on diction night after night, with happier results, I believe). Kidwell’s orchestra was quite fine — there was even a harp — and most of the singers were strong, with melodious voices. Louise Krieger was beautiful and lively, and des­pite a few problems of intonation did a very good job in the title role. Matthew Roehrig as her opposite, Count Danilo, was his old reliable self, though the role calls for high notes that Matt would have been happier just touching instead of having to sing full voice (he has a good F but is thin and strained-sounding above that).

In fact, the problem with the VLO taking on Viennese light opera is that it is written for high, bright professional voices, of which there are few in the usual ranks of the VLO. Theodore Blaisdell, who was a strong presence in the chorus of Ruddigore, has a natural tenor with the requisite B-flat (or whatever Léhar insists on) for the role of Rosillon, though even there I sensed some unsureness music­ally. But the men’s and women’s chorus — particularly the latter — were quite good, even wonderful in places, and filled the auditorium mellifluously.

Graham Christian’s choreography was really superb, and a constant joy to watch. This was true of the cakewalk and nicely interwoven entrances and pro­ces­­sions, the beautiful, understated waltz of Hanna (the widow) and Danilo, but even more true of the last act sequence of entertainment at Maxim’s, consisting of a can-can that I would never have thought VLO chorus members capable of doing (authentic screams and all) and then, the surprise of the night, a Loïe Fuller look-alike who did a sort of scarf dance imitating the wings of butterflies that was fascinating to watch — and superbly well lighted, seemingly from below, by the lighting designer Steve Morgan.

The more I reflect, the more it seems that this is one of the best VLO shows in recent years. I can forgive Michael Greenebaum a few directorial lapses — some rather straight slanted lines of the male chorus early on and some awkward business between the two French diplomats (played with devil-may-care brio by John Healy and Nicholas Dahlman — in view of the general mastery he demon­strated of (I count from the program) as many as forty principals, chorus, dancers and all on stage at once.

The one real shortcoming I observed was the set, which had too much mus­­t­­ardy yellow in it and generally speaking was not up to the company’s usual quality.


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An American Playgoer at Home by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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