The Merry Widow (Lakeland Opera)

The Merry Widow [sung in an English translation by Jeremy Sams]

Hanna Glawari – Elizabeth Woods
Count Danilo Danilovitsch – James Cleverton
Valencienne – Catrine Kirkman
Camille, Count de Rosillon – Ben Kerslake
Other roles and chorus performed by members of Lakeland Opera, including:
Baron Mirko Zeta – Geoffrey Hitchen
Njegus – Michael Spencer
Kromow – Jim Johnson
Bogdanovitch – Laurie Mansfield
Sylviane – Lexie Ward

Members of Max Rhythm Dance Works

Lakeland Opera Orchestra
David Sutton

Yvonne Fontane – Director
Maxine Watters – Choreographer

Reviewed by: Martin Eldrad

Reviewed: 6 November, 2009
Venue: Queen’s Hall Theatre, Hexham, Cumbria

Lakeland Opera is an amateur group which hires professional singers for principal roles in its biannual touring productions around Cumbria. Feeling, like every company, the pinch of the recession, Lakeland’s 2009 production of “The Merry Widow” is seemingly aimed at appealing to as wide an audience as possible. Judging by the turnout at Hexham’s Queen’s Hall Theatre, it worked.

The story itself, revolving around the machinations of the nobility of a small European Grand Duchy to keep the millions belonging to glamorous young widow Hanna Glawari within ‘The Fatherland’, also has a certain resonance in these cash-strapped times, and its fin-de-siècle Parisian setting offers welcome glitz. Although no longer the ubiquitous show of its 20th-century heyday, Franz Lehár’s most famous operetta is evidently still held in great affection by more-mature concert-goers – who made up the vast majority of the full house at Hexham, and who hummed happily along to the bittersweet waltz-theme and the show-stopping ‘Vilja’.

The assured and lively playing of the chamber-sized Lakeland Opera Orchestra (aka Skipton Camerata) captured the essence of Lehár’s sparkling orchestration (for much larger forces, which would no doubt have been prohibitively expensive and too loud for the singers, especially as Hexham has no pit). David Sutton kept things well under control, although he rarely achieved the magical ebb and flow needed to bring Viennese dance music to life.

Elizabeth Woods’s gently understated performance of Hanna, serene and firmly in the face of her many would-be suitors, was charming – her sumptuous rendition of the poignant ‘Vilja’ a winning set-piece. James Cleverton impressed vocally, without having quite enough rakish charisma for Danilo. There was good rapport between the two, however, giving plausibility to their romantic scenes.

Partly on account of its scene-setting nature and clunking humour (neither the original libretto nor Jeremy Sams’s English adaptation are a match for the strong plotting and vivacious wit of W. S. Gilbert), and partly because some of members of the cast still seemed to be finding their feet, the first act dragged – saved only by Catrine Kirkman’s coquettish and delightfully sung Valencienne (her lively Can-Can number in Act Three was a tour-de-force).

Things picked up in Act Two: the chorus, dressed in colourful rustic ‘Pontevedrian’ garb, sang with gusto, and simple but effective dance routines from the members of Max Rhythm Dance Works provided visual enlivenment. The action moved along at a snappier pace, and the cast-members seemed to relax and enjoy themselves; funnier jokes were delivered with good comic timing. The momentum kept up in the coda-like Act Three, so that the audience left feeling thoroughly elated and – of course – still humming Lehar’s wonderful tunes.

  • Further performances at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick on 11, 13 & 14 November
  • Lakeland Opera

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