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The Merry Widow Waltzes Into Princeton

R. S. Berlind Theatre of the McCarter Theatre Center
07/18/2008 -  and July 20, 24 and 26
Franz Lehár: The Merry Widow
Jennifer Aylmer (Hanna Glawari), Brian Jagde (Count Danilo Danilovitch), Alison Trainer (Valencienne), Benjamin Bunsold (Camille de Rosillon), Jason Plourde (Baron Mirko Zeta), Brian Hotchkin (Vicomte Cascada), Cody Austin (Raoul de St. Brioche), Corey Trahan (Njegus)
Steven Mosteller (conductor)
Marc Verzatt (stage director), Mary Pat Robertson (choreographer), Lee Mayman (scenic designer), Patricia A. Hibbert (costume designer), Barry Steele (lighting designer)

(© Jeff Reeder)

Opera New Jersey is rounding out its festival season with The Merry Widow. Franz Lehár’s operetta waltzed into Princeton scattering its lilting melodies in the air and winning generous applause from the audience in Berlind Theatre Friday evening. The traditional production proved to be as keenly staged as it was deftly sung.

Marc Verzatt fills the stage with lively movement. This is a physical production with capering can-can girls, swirling dancers, and eager young singers savoring all the fun in Lehár's operetta. Verzatt translates the rhythms of Lehar’s music into vivid lines of movement. He invites the cast to project their personalities eagerly to the audience. They do, and the audience responds with enthusiastic applause.

Conductor Steven Mosteller brings a firm but pliant hand to the music. The waltzes sound beguiling, and the big ensemble numbers explode with vital energy under his baton. Mosteller supports the singers with lively accompaniments. The festival orchestra plays stylishly.

The Merry Widow launched Lehár's career more than a century ago. The operetta's charm remains intact. Hanna Glawari arrives in Paris the toast of the town. Looking for a husband, the wealthy widow is besieged by suitors the moment she steps into the Pontevedrian Embassy. While the Frenchmen line up to dance with her, Hanna discovers an old flame. Years before, her wedding to Count Danilo was thwarted by his noble family because she was a commoner. It takes three acts before Hanna and Danilo sink in each other's arms and waltz into marriage.

Jennifer Aylmer and Brian Jagde make an attractive couple. Neither has a memorable voice, but both sing well and suggest the glamour of their characters. Aylmer's soprano tends to sound steely in the high climaxes - her voice does not float through the Vilja Song - but it sounds firm and attractive in mid range. Jagde makes a handsome Danilo. He leaves little mark on “I'm Off to Chez Maxim's,” but his voice blends nicely with Aylmer's in their duets.

Lee Mayman's sturdy sets suggest the Parisian settings - the Embassy, Hanna's garden and the interior of Maxim's - without making much of a visual statement. Patricia A. Hibbert's costumes catch the operetta's flavor even if they suggest no particular time.

The big cast has no weak links. Alison Trainer (Valencienne) and Benjamin Bunsold (Camille) are effective as the flirtatious wife and the Frenchman who pursues her. Jason Plourde brings an appealing stage presence to Valencienne's husband, Baron Zeta. As the embassy secretary, Corey Trahan gives a capital performance. He sings Njegus’ third act song with spirit, capping his performance with a handstand.

Robert Baxter



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