SARATOGA SPRINGS - If you are looking for a pleasant time in the theater, you will not do much better that the frothy operetta “The Merry Widow,” presented by Opera Saratoga at the Little Theatre in Saratoga State Park.
Though there is a lot to admire in the production, three full hours is a long time to tell the simple tale of a beautiful widow who is the richest woman in a small country and is pursued by many insincere suitors. Though often fun, the three acts seem to recycle the same dilemma.
The tension in the piece is that if Hanna marries and leaves the country she will take most of its wealth with her. It behooves everyone for her to marry a countryman.
The most likely candidate is Count Danilo Danilovitsh, the nephew of the Emperor, who was once engaged to Hanna. His family denied the marriage because of her low social status, and she retaliated by marrying a wealthy older man – now deceased.
The Count is resentful about Hanna’s marrying another and refuses to admit he is still in love with her. Throw in a couple of subplots involving other romances, a couple of comic foils, and you know all you need to know about the plot of “The Merry Widow.”
What redeems the production is the marvelous voices of the cast. This is a beautifully sung piece that is both emotionally dense and comically lighthearted. The only complaint on the score is that there isn’t more of it. The show – which is offered in English – is spoken as much as it is sung.
Cecilia Violetta Lopez is enchanting as the widow Hanna. She is a rich soprano who adds passion and personality to every song. Best of all, she makes the character an independent modern woman.
Alex Lawrence as Danilo also adds to the vocal richness of the evening. His powerful baritone adds a sense of longing to his situation and a hard-headed stubbornness to his behavior. While it is most effective in song, Lawrence’s petulant interpretation of the character reduces the romance in the story. Not until the final scenes do we care if he and Hanna are united.
Another pleasure in the production is the performance of Megan Pachecano as Valencienne, the wife of the Baron (comically played by Andy Papas) who elevates flirting to a fine art. Her engaging, charming performance along with her lovely singing is especially impressive when you learn she is an intern member of the Young Artist Program. She has a promising future.
The large orchestra under the direction of Anthony Barrese is lush and beautiful and a major asset to the professionalism of the g production.
Director and choreographer John de los Santos plays it safe with his staging, taking few chances and making no bold choices (especially with the comedic elements) to add vitality or freshness to the material. Indeed, because Cameron Anderson’s lovely-to-look-at set shrinks an already small stage, much of the presentation seems confined. One longs for the beautiful waltz of the title to sweep the stage instead of the limited movement that is offered. On the topic of choreography, de los Santos is either brilliant in making the other dance numbers funny by making them appear amateurishly performed, or, if that was not his intent, he ruined the dancing in the show.
The Merry Widow continues at the Little Theatre July 8 and 13. For tickets and information 518-584-6018 or operasaratoga.org
This Opera Saratoga production of “The Merry Widow” is far from being a memorable production, but is an enjoyable, colorful effort filled with beautiful singing.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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