Lyric Opera delivers endless variations on the waltz in Oscar Strauss’ “A Waltz Dream,” through April 12 at the Birch North Park Theatre. It’s “The Merry Widow,” “The Chocolate Soldier,” “The Great Waltz” and (later) “The Sound of Music” all rolled into one. “A Waltz Dream,” which played on Broadway in 1908, is heard in Adrian Ross’ translation of the original Viennese book. The story may seem silly to modern American tastes, but the show is all about the waltz and romance. All the production lacks is some real Viennese schmaltz, musically and dramatically (think Beverly Sills’ interpolation of “Meine Lippen sie küssen so heiss” when she performed “The Merry Widow” at San Diego Opera in 1977).
Nonetheless, Lyric Opera’s production has much to offer, scoring big in the comedy department. Under the baton of Leon Natker, the orchestra plays the largely neglected score admirably.
The title might be “The Case of the Reluctant Bridegroom.” In the fictional state of Flausenthurn, King Joachim (baritone Walter Dumelle) has just married off his daughter, Princess Helene (soprano Laura Parker), to a commoner, Lt. Niki (tenor Chad Hilligus) of the Vienna Hussars. In reality, Niki’s been swept off his feet, and when it comes to his marital obligations as prince consort, he’d much rather be in Vienna, thank you. Niki runs off with his pal, Lt. Montschi (baritone Christopher Johnstone), into the woods, where the entertainment is the all-female Prater Swallows orchestra. Both military men promptly fall in love with the orchestra’s Viennese conductor, Franzi, played by Stacey Stofferahn, remembered as Hanna in Lyric Opera’s 2006 “Merry Widow.” Lady Frederica (mezzo Pamela Laurent) saves the situation by enlisting Franzi’s aid, and everyone is suitably paired by the time the curtain falls two acts, many ensembles, duets and arias later.
With her warm, well-produced voice, Stofferahn cuts a swath musically, very nearly transporting one to Vienna. The comedy awards go to DuMelle as the incompetent king and baritone Geno Carr as the pompous, equally inept Count Lothar. Carr has an engaging voice, commanding officiousness and excellent physicality. His sinking falls are gems. The scenes between king and count lift the ponderous proceedings considerably. Their diction is excellent. Sadly, the same cannot be said for all.
Johnstone’s persuasive performance as Montschi is enjoyable. Extremely handsome, tall and dark, he has an ingratiating baritone and marvelous way of carrying himself. Musically, his duets “A Dream Waltz” with Hilligus, and “Piccolo, Piccolo” with Stofferahn, are highlights indeed.
Hilligus never sinks from the vocal “mask,” singing his role’s high tessitura easily. Some may find this far-forward vocal production tiresome, but it is not unpleasant and always reliable. Similarly, Parker’s high, light coloratura is rife with vibrato, which some may find tedious as well; all is within reach save the ill-advised high note in the Act III closing ensemble. The leads are pleasant to watch despite the production’s mixed bag of peasant, military and court costumes. This listener’s favorite line is “Life is unpleasant, especially if you’re a peasant.”
Sadly, this genre, so delightfully spoofed in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” is an excursion down memory lane, way past its use-by date. Remaining performances of “A Waltz Dream” are 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave., San Diego. For tickets ($30-$50), visit www.lyricoperasandiego.org or call (619) 239-8836.