2014 London Artists' Studio Tour (www.londonstudiotour.ca), May 2-4.


Several stand-out performances in UWOpera's The Merry Widow

The golden and halcyon days of the classical Viennese operetta represented by Strauss ll, von Suppé et al. were superceded by the Silver Age of operetta that flourished during the first quarter of the twentieth century as ushered in by native composers such as Stolz, Kálmán, and Franz Lehár. As a fin de siècle confection the Viennese operetta was still popular but now within the context of an overarching nostalgia: the longing for the effete sophistication and romance of High European Hapsburg society.

Lehár’s The Merry Widow (“Die lustige Witwe”) is still a huge crowd-pleaser notwithstanding its longevity and society’s protean exchanges of cultural and aesthetic tastes in music and morals. Judging from last night’s audience reaction this musical work has not shed any of its charm.

As far as operetta and opera plots go The Merry Widow is right up there with the best of them: flirtatious assignations, mixed signals, missed opportunities and redemption. It plumbs the depths of the darker and enlightened shades of our human condition with psychological realism as egos are unleashed, whetted, and seduced by the allure of ‘filthy lucre’ (in this case Pontevedrian billions). In true operetta fashion all is brought to a merry conclusion buoyed by Lehár’s refreshing and sparkling waltzes and melodies.

The stand-outs in UWOpera’s production of The Merry Widow at the Paul Davenport Theatre were several.

Josh Clemenger’s portrayal of Camille de Rosillon was a most satisfactory one. Emotionally involved with his character and equipped with a pleasant operatic voice, he presented an unaffected and genuine performance.

Mark Anthony del Brocco brought Baron Zeta’s stock comedic character very much to life with appropriate stylized gesticulation and blustering cuckoldry.

Jillian Clarke as Valencienne Zeta turned in a superb performance singing beautifully and acting her role with subtlety, control and confidence. Her poise and stage presence were impressive.

Evan Korbut’s Danilo Danilovitch was almost perfection. His character oozed charm as he swaggered about the stage with attitude and ease, yet with vulnerability too. Although his singing voice at times could have been stronger, there were moments when smooth and silk-like sounds were definitely audible and pleasantly memorable.

Gwenna Fairchild-Taylor who played Hanna Glawari (aka the Merry Widow) could belt out the musical numbers with no hesitation; a little more warmth and personality throughout her singing would have made for a more authentic and engaging performance. Sometimes the delivery of her lines appeared to lack dramatic intensity.

A strong chorus of singers, actors, and grisettes parisiennes successfully created the heady ambience of Paris a few years before the outbreak of World War One.

Choreographer Miranda Wickett’s and Director Michael Cavanagh’s production of The Merry Widow is a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable one. Humorous stage business executed as if all part of a musical waltz itself moved each of the scenes along seamlessly. Their interpolation of contemporaneous political material within the Urtext was not at all obtrusive. If it can work in G&S operettas why not here?

Each of the three acts was designed with its own original lighting, set and costuming, all  providing visual cues most appropriate for this operetta’s time and space.

The orchestra under the baton of Judith Yan was too loud at times, almost rendering some of the singing unintelligible. That said, Lehár’s score was played with precision and musicality.

This Merry Widow took advantage of clever direction, pleasant singing and strong performances all of which producer Theodore Baerg can be proud. Many left the theatre humming Lehár’s infectious tunes, all the while being stared down by a larger-than-life projected image of  Professor Baerg himself.

Huh? Go to the show and you’ll see what I mean!

There is one performance left today at 2:00pm Sunday, November 18. Tickets available at the door.

(Out of 4 Stars)

Iain Paterson is a Musical Theatre Performer and founder of The Broadway Singers.