Opera Review

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    Merriest “Widow” of all

    By Juliet Schoen/Staff Writer

    Whether this holiday season makes you happy or sad, the Los Angeles Opera can lift your spirits, guaranteed, with its production of Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow.”

    This may not be highbrow opera, but it works extremely well in the version being offered at the Music Center.

    The sets are charming, the costumes are daring and the singing is excellent.

    Credit for the fun must go to Lofti Mansouri, the director, Michael Yeargan, the set designer, and Thierry Bosquet, who provided the sketches for the costumes.

    Since each of the three acts offers a party setting (it’s set in pre-war Paris, after all), the numerous leading ladies and “grisettes” must have kept the costume makers busy. There is no stinting here!

    In addition to the singing, there is a great deal of spirited dancing, choreographed by Peggy Hickey.

    The cast is headed by diva Carol Vaness as the wealthy Madame Glawari who is attractive in her own right-but all that money doesn’t hurt. She sings beautifully and throws herself in to the spirit of the frolic, flirting and dancing. Her leading man is Rodney Gilfrey, who gets my vote as “sexiest man alive in opera.” Romantics will take delight in the famous “Merry Widow Waltz” as danced by this twosome.

    Since the operetta is played with lightness and humor, special notice must be taken of Jason Graae, who has a small role but steals every one of his scenes.

    The others in the cast also display their comic abilities. Dean Peterson is a fusty Baron Mirko Zeta, whose “respectable” wife is played coyly by newcomer Virginia Tola. Other Los Angeles stalwarts who come through again are Charles Castronova (who needs acting lessons to play a Casanova), Malcolm Mackenzie, Greg Fedderly, Jessica Rivers, James Creswell, Gordon Goodman and Louis Lebherz.

    John Demain conducted the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra with appropriate liveliness while William Vendice brought order with the Los Angeles Opera chorus.

    Since everything in this production was designed to make the audience happy, the lilting Lehar score is sung in English. Nonetheless, supertitles are provided as well. The translation from German, by Christopher Hasall, is remarkably good.

    Try to waltz over to the Music Center on Saturday. Last chance!