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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 9:09 am | Fair 55º


Opera Santa Barbara Makes Merry With ‘Widow’

The operetta is a classic Viennese blend of cynicism and sentimentality

Opera Santa Barbara concludes its 2009 Festival with two performances of Franz Lehar’s definitive operetta The Merry Widow (Die Lustige Witwe) — at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. March 22, both in The Granada. (OSB’s second and final performance of Carmen is 2:30 p.m. Sunday at The Granada.)

Janette Zilioli plays Hannah Glawari, the not-so-bereaved heroine of Opera Santa Barbara’s
Janette Zilioli plays Hannah Glawari, the not-so-bereaved heroine of Opera Santa Barbara’s “Merry Widow.”

The Merry Widow will be sung in English with English super-titles. OSB’s artistic director, Maestro Valéry Ryvkin, will conduct; Yefim Maizel will direct the stage action. Janette Zilioli will star as the eponymous veufve, with Eugene Chan as her long-lost love, Danillo. The production also stars Ani Maldijian (Valencienne) and Thorsteinn Arbjörnsson (Camille). The sets will be those of the Utah Opera; the costumes are designed by Miller James.

This quintessentially Viennese blend of cynicism and sentimentality is set in Paris (it is based on an 1861 French comedy, L’Attaché d’ambassadeThe Embassy Attaché, which flopped), in and around the French embassy of Pontevedro, an imaginary Balkan kingdom more or less derived from Montenegro. One of the attachés is a young count with royal relatives named Danillo. Some years before the present, Danillo fell in love with a beautiful country girl named Hannah. Since Hannah was a commoner, Danillo’s family forbade a marriage and shipped Danillo out of the country as a diplomat. In the mean time, Hannah caught the attention of Pontevedro’s richest citizen, an elderly banker named Glawari, who proposed marriage, was accepted, wed, and who then promptly expired on the honeymoon.

John Donne notwithstanding (“No man is an island, etc. ...”), no one in this story is much “diminished” by Glawari’s death — indeed, Hannah became, by default, Pontevedro’s richest citizen — and since he died off stage, before the action begins, we needn’t bother about him, except to shake our heads and say, There’s no fool like an old fool. Hannah can now marry whom she pleases, and we may assume that every socially acceptable bachelor west of the Urals is on his way to her door with a bouquet and a box of chocolates. Then Hannah shows up in Paris, trailing clouds of suitors, and decides to stay awhile.

The complication — you knew there was at least one — is that Pontevedro is all but broke (sound familiar?), and if Hannah marries a foreigner, all her money goes to him and the country goes into receivership. There are, of course, many other complications, subplots, and quasi-naughty goings-on. I don’t think I’m giving much away — The Merry Widow was a tremendous hit from the first performance in 1905 and has been playing somewhere ever since — if I tell you that everything turns out pretty much the way we want it to. If only life were an operetta!

The jokes are still funny; the melodies are still gorgeous; the absurdities of the plot are still charming.

Click here to order tickets to The Merry Widow and Carmen or for more information, or call 805.898.3890.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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