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Madison Opera: Lehar's "Merry Widow"
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Program
Lehar: The Merry Widow

Performers
Anna Glawari: Robin Follman, soprano
Count Danilo: John Koch, baritone
Baron Zeta: Frederick Reeder, baritone
Valencienne: Erin Windle, soprano
de Rosillon: Robert Breault, tenor
Njegus: James Sampson, baritone
Madison Symphony Orchestra
Roland Johnson, conductor

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The Madison Opera's production of Lehar's The Merry Widow, which I saw Sunday afternoon at the Union Theater, was in every way a success. I'd forgotten how elegant and lovely its music is, more than enough to sustain a high level of interest despite the story's fluff. It's such a good feeling to leave the theater humming these great tunes and thinking, "My goodness, that was not just good, it was very good." One could almost believe there really was a 19th-century Balkan state named Petrovenia whose national treasury could only be restored by making sure the widow Glawari's fortune did not end up elsewhere.

Roland Johnson conducted the pit orchestra with his usual suave good humor and great attention to the singers' needs. Three settings lent by Tri-Cities Opera afforded easy movement to Jay Julian's stage direction and choreography, even with a large cast on stage in some scenes. William Owens' lighting was straightforward but highlighted the luster of the sumptuously beautiful costuming.

But none of this would have sufficed had not the singing been first-rate, and it was indeed impressive. Frederick Reeder's Baron Zeta was rich and warm, and he is a very fine actor. As Count Danilo, John Koch was convincing in all aspects of the role: rake, ne'er-to-well, but faithful to true love, and a good solid baritone. Tenor Robert Breault's de Rosillon was bright, young, and passionate in his ardor for Baron Zeta's wife, Valencienne. In the role of Valencienne, soprano Erin Windle, on the heels of a smash in last season's Tales of Hoffman, was in excellent voice, and once again displayed excellent acting skills. As the ultra-campy major-domo Njegus, James Sampson hammed it up (intentionally) with terrific comic skill. Not to slight any of these artists, nor indeed many other good singers and dancers of the large supporting cast, the star of it all shone very brightly indeed. As the fabulously rich widow Anna Glawari, soprano Robin Follman's strong, clear, superbly trained voice soared glamorously over the whole production.

Support for the Madison Opera seemed to waver a bit last year, but it looks solid now. The house looked pretty full Sunday and I was told it was 85% for the Friday night performance. This is very good news. The company will present Thunder of Horses, a children's opera, in January, and in April, the Verdi masterpiece Rigoletto. My view of it all is: more, please.

Isthmus, November, 1996
Copyright 1996 Jess Anderson




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