Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” opened Opera Saratoga’s 2018 season on Friday at the Spa Little Theater followed by a daring double bill of new works the subsequent evening. Such a juxtaposition of tradition and innovation shows the company to be in fine form.
There’s sumptuous music, plenty of fine singing and lots of playful antics in the new production of “The Merry Widow.” A sweeping rounded staircase serves as the grand entry point for soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez, the coy and clever widow. A fleet of ardent suitors wearing tales fills the stage early on and Act Three is enlivened by the can-can girls.
“The Merry Widow” can sometimes come off as so much fluff. But serious effort went into making this a tight and professional effort. That made the fun times all the better.
The classic operetta includes plenty of spoken word and was performed in English. Director and choreographer John de los Santos kept things smart and lively. Conductor Anthony Barrese led an orchestra that stretched across the back of the stage and played in fine fettle.
Though the widow is young and appealing, this is no ingenue role and a hint of shadow appears in Lopez’s tone color. Baritone Alex Lawrence as Count Danilo sang with elegance and allure. Their final love duet was meltingly beautiful.
The double bill on Saturday night opened with “Vinkensport, or the Finch Opera” which is about an obscure sport of tallying bird calls. Each of the six competitors launches into a revealing personal monologue. The juxtaposition of mindsets and obsessions is all rather random and loopy, not unlike that Christopher Guest movie “Best in Show” about dog shows. The best thing about the opera was the fine young singers, who were bursting with life.
After intermission came “Rocking Horse Winner,” based on the D.H. Lawrence short story of a little boy who mounts his rocking horse and learns the name of winning horses. Here, he’s no longer little, but a young adult suffering from autism, as well as a needy and domineering mother. A quartet of whispering ghosts follows the poor man around.
“Rocking Horse Winner” would have been better served by a more vibrant and varied musical score. But conductor David Alan Miller keeps both operas in good order.
The Opera Saratoga will continue with Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul,” a timely take on immigration, which opens on Saturday July 7. Performances of all three operas continue through July 15.
Local arts writer Joseph Dalton is the author of Artists and Activitists Making Culture in New York's Capital Region.
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