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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 2:08 pm | Fair 36º

 
 
 
 

True Love Conquers All in Opera Santa Barbara’s ‘The Merry Widow’

With a flourish of fun and a lavish production, Opera Santa Barbara brings renewed zest to an old favorite

After a delivering a doom-laden Carmen the previous weekend, Opera Santa Barbara brought a sumptuous sacher torte to The Granada on Saturday, Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow.

The 1905 concoction is cherished by music lovers for its lively, lilting music and rollicking dances. Its characters — Prince Danilo, Hanna Glawari, the can-can girls and Grisettes and all the rest — conjure up a fabled Europe before two world wars and brute politics put an end to such revelry.

The cast includes an imposing Janette Zilioli as the wealthy widow, Hanna; a charming Eugene Chan as Count Danilo; and saucy Ani Maldijian as the flirtatious wife of the ambassador from the fictional Pontevedra, Valencienne. These and the other principles were equally as skilled in their acting as in delivering Lehar’s well-loved melodies.

Steve Grave was a standout as the Pontevedrian ambassador, Baron Mierko Zeta, husband to Valencienne of the wandering eye. Victoria Robertson and Deborah Bartling portrayed two other fashionable wives, and the male contingent included Thorsteinn H. Arbjornsson as the lovesick Camille and Christopher Hawkes, Andreas Beckett, James Calvert, Igor Vieira, Andrew Park and Ken Ryals as various embassy types, rushing comically about the stage.

The plot, such as it is, provided a fast-paced look at romantic conventions of the times: wealthy widow arrives in Paris to make a splash, and sundry men pay court to her — and her money. And, of course, true love eventually conquers all.

This is the operetta that gave the world such songs as “Vilia,” “I’m Going to Maxim’s” and “Girls, Girls, Girls.” With these voices,inventive stage direction by Yefim Maizel, a fine orchestra in the pit and Maestro Valéry Ryvkin conducting, the evening was virtually guaranteed to send the full-house audience out the doors humming.

The Hungarian Lehar drew on his Middle European roots for this confection. The dances included waltzes from Vienna and rousing Balkan folk numbers. The latter were performed by members of the State Street Ballet, with artistic direction by Rodney Gustafson anrd choreography by Gary McKenzie. The orchestra in the pit was 44 players strong, adding more layers to the richness of the evening.

That Opera Santa Barbara has produced with such a lavish hand indicates things were obviously set in motion before the economic downturn. The elaborate costumes and sets were obtained from the Utah Opera, matching the Granada’s opulence. Michael Yeargan designed the scenery and the costumes were created by Susan Memmot Allred and Thiery Bousquet. The costumes for the Balkan dances were supplied by the Postoley Dance Ensemble.

A pleasant little coda to the evening occurred in the parking garage elevator. Two musicians from the orchestra were leaving, carrying their violin cases. The other elevator passengers thanked them and both women responded almost simultaneously. “It’s easy when Valery is conducting,” said one. The other chimed in, “Yes, he’s the best.”

The Merry Widow will be performed again at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Click here to order tickets or for more information, or call 805.898.3890.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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