Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Near Standing Ovation - UWOpera's Merry Widow

With my busted and painful shoulder I drove all the way to London, Ontario and back on the weekend, primarily to see the production of Lehar's "The Merry Widow" put on by Western University's Opera Programme.
To my mind this has been a relatively bad year for theatre - I have sat through curtain calls and standing ovations this year that befuddled me, attending professional productions. My faithful readers will know some instances of this.
But last night, I almost leapt to my feet. And I am not sure why the 'almost'. Likely because I have seen no other version of the operetta. (One friend who dropped by after the first act commented that he had recently paid many times the cost of this show for a ticket in Vienna and it certainly was not twice so good - I wondered if it was better at all.)
University opera productions have certain likely problems. Often there is clumsiness in the staging. Timing is usually less than perfect. Casting sometimes suffers, as there is limited availability of players to fit roles. Often the performers just cannot perform credibly to the ages of the characters. The challenges to the voices can be serious - often several performers cannot hit the notes and still have decent diction so you lose key lyrics.
This production exhibited NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THOSE WEAKNESSES! Moreover, it was an incredibly complicated staging - for large parts of the operetta, the stage was full of people, moving around, engaged in marvellous slapstick, dancing, and there were no obvious missteps.
There were numerous scenes requiring amazing coordination of several performers. I saw nothing miss. It was delightful.
And then the operetta itself had justice done to it. Lehar fills it with moments of high comedy, and the cast performed them superbly.
And it has moments of high emotion. What was an impressive tribute to the key performers, and the overall direction, was that those key moments caused the audience to become as silent in paying attention to them and giving them their due respect, as they had been raucous in many of the raucous scenes, responding with laughter and clapping.
I cannot say enough about the performers. I'll trust my program, which tells me Geoffrey Sirett played Prince Danilo, and I remain stunned that he is a third-year student. But I am barely less stunned by the rest of the cast.
According to the program, Gillian Emberley played Anna, conveying the widow's longing and mischief very well. The scenes in which they do the famous waltz were magic for me. And when she sang the fairy story song the house went dead silent, a real tribute. Even my cough subsided.
Taylor Matheson was a very mischievous Valencienne, adding to Alberta's donation to Western's program. William Lewans made the count ridiculous and sympathetic at once. Paul Grambo used the third act to really mark his role . And the lead Grisette, Alicia Woynarski, sure did her job.
And I do not mean to suggest that those I did not mention did not carry their weight. I did not feel there was a single weak link in the chain behind this production.
We saw the last show in the run and I sure hope the whole team had an amazing time at the party afterwards. To make something like this work so well takes time and commitment I find hard to imagine to be consistent with surviving as a student!
Bravo to this program. And thanks for a glorious evening.
I recall one almost 30 years ago that has featured in previous posts. Maybe one day I will seee some of this cast on Canada AM.


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