I attended the opening night of Toronto Operetta Theatre’s 2007 revival of The Merry Widow, starring soprano Leslie Ann Bradley in the title role as wealthy dowager Anna Glawari.
Anna hails from the mythical province of Pontevedro which is encountering its own “fiscal cliff” and the Pontevedrian Ambassador to Paris needs her 50 million francs to stay in the country lest the Fatherland collapse into financial ruin. Of course, this means Anna must be charmed into marrying the only Pontevedrian man at hand – one Count Danilo with whom she shares a tumultuous past. Calamity ensues, or should I say calamity within the specific operetta-style context where colloquial, Vaudevillian-esque comedy mixes with operatic musicianship, sparkly dresses and bombastic flamboyance.
Once TOT General Director Guillermo Silva-Martin finished soliciting the audience for patronage – and welcoming the busload of visitors from St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake – the lavish set was enhanced by stunning costumes and an acoustic 12-piece orchestra. The music was robust and energized from the get-go, with Widow’s opulent Parisian setting a backdrop of luxurious carved consoles and lounges.
The cast of characters were many, with the philandering “respectable wife” of the Pontevedrian Ambassador to Paris (played by Elizabeth Beeler) and her French accomplice (played by Keith Klassen) perfectly executed. Gregory Finney as the jealous Pontevedrian Councillor was the iconic Operetta embodiment of intensity and mockery – beautifully straddling the fine line between classical Opera and musical theatre.
While the company was certainly dotted with bright stars, Leslie Ann Bradley sparkled in the title role. The delicacy with which she realized both action and voice had the entire audience hypnotized, especially by her singing of “Vilja” which brought the house down with thunderous applause and echoes of “Brava!” over tears.
The Count, played by Adam Luther seemed to be distantly interested in the production until the very end where he finally warmed to the Widow in the last number. I felt Andrew Pelrine as the M. Raoul de St. Brioche, the only French personality, took his caricature too far, with his incomprehensible French accent and fancy gesticulations.
The Merry Widow by Franz Lehár premiered in Austria in 1905 and has had great success since. Toronto Operetta Theatre’s production, in English, should not be overlooked either. Perhaps following a three-course meal at the Hot House Café on New Year’s Eve?
The Merry Widow By Franz Lehár runs until January 6th, 2013 at the Jane Mallett Theatre (27 Front Street East)
Tickets: $95, $68, can be purchased by calling the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts at (416) 366-7723 or 1-800-708-6754