�The Merry Widow�: Operetta is perfect holiday fare�

Lush music, lavish production and loads of laughs brighten the Dallas stage

By TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor

Dec 7, 2007 - When it debuted in December 1905, no one knew the operetta “The Merry Widow” would become one of the most-loved works in the opera world. 

Dallas Opera Photo by Karen Almond

Anna Glawari (Ruth Ann Swenson) enjoys the company of her many suitors at the end of Act One of “The Merry Widow.”

The Dallas Opera's current production of Franz Lehár's light operetta is lush, lavish and a boatload of fun.

The story revolves around a rich young widow from the mythical country of Pontevedro who has moved to Paris to find a new husband. The plot is secondary to the production's great sets, stunning costumes and lovely music. It's been a long time since I've heard an audience applaud before one note was sung. Yet it happened as the curtain went up on each of the operetta's three acts.

Michael Yeargan's sets and Thierry Bosquet's costumes are reason enough to see the show. Act One is set in black and white. Think the Ascot crowd from “My Fair Lady.” Act Two is set at the widow's Paris mansion and is bathed in varying shades of violet, blue and gold. Act Three, set at Paris' infamous nightclub Maxim's, is a study in red and black.

Making her Dallas Opera debut, Stage Director Candace Evans comes from a dance background. It must be difficult to block out a cast as large as “The Merry Widow,” but Evans and her cast make it look effortless. Everyone floats on and off the stage.

Although the staging, costuming and directing are impressive, the singers bring lightness and joy to the stage, too.

Ruth Ann Swenson, as Anna Glawari, seems to relish the role. She’s a great flirt. Rod Gilfrey, cast as the suave Count Danilo, cuts a royal figure and was in good voice Wednesday night.

A secondary plot involving some illicit infidelity, mistaken identity and “a highly respectable wife” provides the show with just the right touch of comic relief. The supporting cast of Andrew Shore, Nathalie Paulin, Stephen Costello and Scott Scully do a fine job, with everyone having a raucous good time.

Of particular note is Jason Graae, who is brilliant as a Pontevedrian embassy secretary. Graae's physical comedy is perfectly timed and seems to channel the spirit of geeky Ed Grimly, a famous character created by comedian Martin Short.

Graae steals the show, but no one, including Swenson and Gilfrey, seemed to mind.

The operetta ends with a visit to Maxim's nightclub, complete with beautiful dancers, glittering couples and a heart-warming finale that celebrates the enduring joys of true love. It was hard not catch the spirit. Everyone around me was laughing, clapping and tapping their toes. 

I sat behind a woman who whispered to her husband, “I hate this,” after the first act. She must have changed her mind, because as we were filing out of the hall, she told him, “I'm glad we stayed. It was a lot of fun.”

Give yourself an early Christmas present. Call the opera's box office and grab a ticket to the closing performance Saturday night. 

The opera’s next production is “Salome,” running Feb. 1, 3, 6 and 9. “Porgy and Bess,” with Sulphur Springs’ own John Victor Allen cast as the dectective, runs Feb. 22, 24, 26, 28 and March 1. “Tosca” is the final production of the season, running March 7, 9, 12 and 15. 

Tickets are $15 to $199. Call 214-443-1000 or visit the opera's website, www.dallasopera.org.

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