VO's Merry Widow a comedic tour-de-force
Vancouver Opera's season opener is Lehar's Merry Widow, a popular production, but one VO hasn't tackled in nearly 20 years. This production is an Art-Nouveau-meets-Moulin-Rouge laugh riot filled with spectacular costumes, brilliant dance numbers, and more than one unexpected twist.
Richard Suart as Baron Mirko Zeta opens the show and sets the scene for the famous widow and her 20 million dollars, who has become the most desirable woman in Paris. Suart gives a wonderful performance, always the butt of every joke, but played with such wonderful comedic timing, he is the perfect choice for the long-suffering, yet blissfully unaware Baron.
The Baron's less-than-faithful wife Valencienne, played by soprano Sasha Djihanian is carrying on an affair with the French aristocrat Camille de Rosillon played by Tenor John Tessier. The two captured a genuine spark of intimacy between them, and their duets are both playful and lovely.
The setup for the Widow's entrance was hilarious, with all the men in the cast fussing over themselves and falling over each other to get to the door. The whole scene is an awkward, funny, madcap buildup to the heroine's entrance.
Lucia Cesaroni as Hanna Glawari, the eponymous Widow pranced around the stage like a princess, positively glowing in the attention of her numerous male suitors. She was animated and lively throughout, and her "Vilja" was warm and full, telling the story beautifully of the lovestruck water nymph. Her playful mocking of Danilo as she imitated a cavalry horse was whimsical and hilarious.
Tenor John Cudia as Danilo was a pleasure to watch. His comedic timing was excellent, and he was the perfect foil to the Widow. Vocally brilliant, with an effortless high range that was sweet and enchanting.
One pleasant standout was baritone Michael Nyby as the Vicomte Cascada. He played the perfect aristocrat as a sassy, mildly effeminate fusspot, and his mannerisms and haughtiness were incredibly entertaining.
Hands down, the direction of Kelly Robinson and choreography of Joshua Beamish were the winners of the evening. Comedic direction can be very difficult, and neither wasted a single moment to add a bit of comedy, a great dance or choreo routine, and it was so rousing and spectacular, the audience was clapping along and shouting for more.
The costumes and sets were also beautiful, like a watercolour painting in Act II, or a Toulouse-Lautrec poster in Act III. Use of colour and space were amazing, and every scene looked like a postcard from the 1910s. It was visually stunning.
The two numbers that brought the house down were the "Weibermarsch" number in Act II - complete with brilliant choreography that was so well executed by the men, and was so spectacular it had the audience shouting for more - and the Act III "Can-Can", complete with two male dancers in drag absolutely brought the house down. I never knew I needed male drag can can dancers in opera, but it was simply sensational. In fact all the dancers were incredibly skilled and each dance routine was outstanding.
The VO Orchestra under the direction of Ward Stare, fresh from conducting Widow at The Met, were light and fast, and romantic and lyric in equal measure, and beautifully underscored each scene.
I can't remember the last time I laughed this hard at an opera. It was pure pleasure from start to finish, and I hope the sign of a great season at Vancouver Opera.
Vancouver Opera's production of The Merry Widow runs through October 28. For details and tickets, click here.