Widow waltzes into Birch
by Charlene Baldridge
Published - 10/12/06 - 03:38 PM | 4652 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
American soprano Stacey Stofferahn Uthe, who plays the title role in Lyric Opera San Diego's production of Franz Lehar's 1905 operetta "The Merry Widow," is a smashingly good singer. And she's in good company from A to Z. The best LOSD production since the company moved into the Birch North Park Theatre a year ago, it continues through Oct. 21.

Newcomers to the music will fall in love with its ravishing melodies, duets and arias, and zesty ensemble numbers. Those already familiar with all this will fall in love all over again. How could they not? The players are so easy on the eye and the ear.

The silly, frothy plot is set in Paris. Marsovia's wastrel prince, Danilo, (baritone Chris Thompson) must wive it wealthily to save his impoverished homeland. He'd rather hang out at Maxims, where loose women and wine flow freely. Along comes the wealthy Marsovian Widow, Hanna Glavari (Uthe). All the men woo her, but she has eyes only for Danilo, with whom she enjoyed a youthful love affair that ended because he could not marry a commoner.

A subplot concerns Count Camille de Rosillon (tenor Chad Johnson) and his mad wooing of Valencienne (soprano Laura Portune), flirtatious wife of the Marsovian ambassador to Paris, Baron Zeta (Joseph Grienenberger). Valencienne urges Camille to forget her and marry Hanna. In Act II's "Love in My Heart" duet, this pair has some of the operetta's most beautiful music, especially as Camille pleads, "Come to the little arbor, dear." Johnson nails the number, his effortless clear tenor assured and glorious.

As for Uthe, she, too, has a well-placed, secure voice, lovely throughout its register and particularly gorgeous at the top. Her diction could have been clearer, but sopranos do have a more difficult time than men in putting the words over. Though also a fine singer and more easily understood, Portune's voice tends to be edgy in the transport tones and upper registers.

Both Uthe and Portune are slim and look great in the period costumes coordinated by Pam Stompoly-Ericson. Johnson and Thompson are tall, slim and handsome in their array of costumes. Suitably attired in tuxedos with dashing sashes and Marsovian mufti, the men's chorus is mellifluous, and their dancing in "Women," choreographed by David Brannen, is a comic riot.

Quibbles with Adrian Ross's translation are a small matter. The union orchestra plays well under the baton of LOSD general director Leon Natker, and LOSD artistic director J. Sherwood Montgomery stages the Viennese chestnut with admirable restraint. One simple moment between Uthe and an ensemble member, during her big number "Vilja," actually causes moist eyes, partly due to her sincere involvement and partly to the beauty of the young man.

Supporting roles are in excellent hands as played by Grienenberger, Daniel Hall, Jeremy Botroff, Kathryn T. Leff, Joe H. Zilvinskis, Leviticus Richardson, Robert Taylor, Lisa Elliott, Lisa M. Hoefs, and particularly Andy Collins, who as the embassy adjutant Negus turns in a show-stopping song and dance number in Act III's "Quite Parisian."

One looks forward to the return of all four principals and the continuing improvement and growth of Lyric Opera San Diego.

"The Merry Widow" continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12 and 19, Friday, Oct. 13 and 20, and 2 p.m. Sunday Oct. 15 and 21, at Stephen and Mary Birch North Park Theatre, 2981 University Ave. at 29th Street, San Diego.

For information, visit www.e-ticketsnow.com or call (619) 239-8836. Next up is Gaetano Donizetti's "Don Pasquale," Nov. 3 through 12.
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