What a way to end the working week. A feel-good Friday night, with enchanting romances and hilarious comic mishaps in an operetta that would be a hit rom-com by today’s standards.
Playing for one-night only at Perth Theatre was The Merry Widow performed by Opera Bohemia, an up and coming opera group based in Scotland. The company is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a tour of one of the world’s best loved comic operettas. This was my first experience of Opera Bohemia and what a charming affair it was. A night of romance and laughter, brought to us by a young company sporting a wealth of talent.
It’s a very accessible operetta and is a great starter show if you’re new to opera.An icon in its genre, The Merry Widow by composer Franz Lehár is one of the most performed comic operettas and a favourite of both professionals and amateur companies. It’s a very accessible operetta and is a great starter show if you’re new to opera.
Set in the romantic backdrop of aristocratic Paris, the story centres around the relationship between young heiress, the recently widowed Hanna, and bachelor, Count Danilovitch (Danilo). The production opens with a party at the Pontevedrian Embassy where guest Hanna finds herself surrounded by suitors pursuing her new-found wealth.
Ambassador Baron Zeta is determined that her fortune must stay in The Fatherland (Pontevedro), and asks for Danilo’s help with this mission. Danilo agrees to ward off other suitors but will not court Hanna. He has feelings for her but had rejected her years ago when her fortune was not as great. To declare his love now that she is a wealthy widow, could only be hypocrisy, surely?
We watch as the pair antagonise each other until love is finally free to blossom. The story unravels through comic misadventures, an added love triangle between Baton Zeta, his wife Valencienne and her lover Camille, and of course, the necessary drop of misplaced identity (just to wind things up a little).
Directed by John Wilkie, Opera Bohemia’s production is classy and refined, oozing sophistication, charm and wit as it bounces along in graceful merriment. The Edwardian Perth Theatre frames the simple, pastel-pink set beautifully.
The Merry Widow is delivered by a quality cast of just twelve who produce a glorious chorus sound when in full complement.The Merry Widow is delivered by a quality cast of just twelve who produce a glorious chorus sound when in full complement. The company are said to present some of the best professional talent in Scotland and I couldn’t agree more.
Played by soprano Catriona Clark, leading lady Hanna is admired and self-assured. She enters fashioning furs and sparkles and takes her pool of bumbling, smitten suitors in her stride.
Ms Clark’s soaring soprano voice takes us through iconic songs such as Vilja with an elegant and controlled performance. The focus of her attention, Danilo, is a dreamer and ladies-man, with a touch of narcissism. Douglas Nairne plays a brilliant Danilo, aloof and proud, with only the slightest softening of character as the story unfolds. I feel like putting out a cheer when he finally relents and admits his love for Hanna.
The romantic pairings are well cast, and as love ebbs and flows throughout the performance, we are drawn into their romantic worlds. Special mention should be paid to the rich vocals of tenor Tyler Clarke as Camille and soprano Marie Claire Breen as Valencienne.
The pair create a great energy around the tension of their forbidden love and bring voices that I want to hear much more of.
Andrew McTaggart is a funny and very likeable Ambassador Baron Zeta. The comic timing in this production is incredibly sharp and expertly delivered by a cast who are as impressive at making us laugh as drawing us into their love-stories.
Under the musical direction of Alistair Digges, the chamber orchestra is well-balanced in support of the small cast and brings lashings of colour to Lehar’s waltzing and highly lyrical music.The comic timing in this production is incredibly sharp and expertly delivered.
One cannot mention The Merry Widow and not pay tribute to the famous dancing grisettes of Chez Maxims nightclub. With feathers, frills and squeals, the grisettes are delightful and hold their own as a small team of only three. The wider male cast of four are hilarious to watch, skilled in acting the fool and making us laugh out loud through only gesture and expression at times.
The choreography of the production is gentle, and while some of the cast appear more comfortable with a waltz step than others, the odd misstep adds to the soft charm of the show.
This is a most enjoyable and uplifting production. As the curtain closes on three acts of parties, I get the sense that Pontevedro would be a fun place to live and I hope I get an invitation to the next party.
If you missed the Perth performance you can still catch this wonderful operetta by Opera Bohemia in various locations in Scotland this month and next.
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