On the afternoon of Saturday, November 21st, the theater at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy of Brooklyn in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, was transformed into the Petrovenian Embassy for the Regina Opera’s first production of their 46th season. “The Merry Widow” composed by Austrian-Hungarian Franz Lehár (1870-1948) was an instant worldwide hit since its debut in 1905.
Brooklyn’s Regina Opera presented a brilliant and entertaining production on November 21, 22, 28 and 29, featuring two casts. Perfect holiday entertainment!
The plot: a rich widow returns to her native Petrovania, with an inheritance of millions which could save the nearly bankrupt country, if she marries another Petrovanian. Music, mirth and mayhem galore result. At the beginning of Act 1, when all were singing a birthday tribute to their King, the portrait we see was actually of Conductor Gregory Ortega!
Anna Glawari, the wealthy widow, was brilliantly sung and acted by soprano Christina Rohm. Rohm’s singing of “Vilia” was sheer magic and “I love you so” (The Merry Widow Waltz) was equally perfect. Ms. Rohm could be heard above the orchestra and as a perfect blend in ensemble numbers; her finales were exciting her top notes like golden stars. Ms. Rohm’s voice has great beauty and is full, round and sumptuous in sound. She simply WAS Anna Glawari. Ms. Rohm was stunning in a peasant dress in Act 2.
Count Danilo Danilovitsch was in the excellent hands of baritone Peter Hakjoon Kim. His caressing and strong singing of “I’m Going to Maxim’s” and “Women” (Girls, girls, girls) and with Anna in “I love you” was captivating. His acting and dancing were part of a very romantic portrayal. His dramatic soliloquy “There once was a Prince” was powerful. Kim’s high baritone was beautifully tapered for this stellar role. Kudos for his heel kicks á la The Rockettes in the “Girls, girls, girls” reprise!
Valencienne was sung by Sarah Moulton Faux. Her beautiful lyric soprano sparkled magically in her duet with her suitor Camille de Rosillon, and she was a fine actress. Their rhapsodic duets together made for a profound sigh for love-illicit or not! Her voice echoed with longing and had a golden sheen.
Camille, Count de Rosillon was sung by tenor David Bailey. Bailey is the possessor of a lovely ardent lyric tenor who entered the very high tessitura of this part with ease. His singing of “See, there’s a place close at hand” describing the nearby pavilion in which Camille and Valencienne could meet for a tryst, thrilled the listener with its pulsating ascending scales and enchanting irresistible melody. Bailey and Ms. Faux were a handsome couple. Nice to see and wonderful to hear!
John Schenkel was a superb Baron Mirko Zeta. His feigned heart attacks, swooning and general frustration were great fun and his robust baritone was never better. Schenkel’s “double takes” at his peeks in the pavilion thinking his young wife was inside with a lover, were priceless!
Njegus was in the comical hands of Daniel Kerr who danced a good Can-Can in a skirt. Kerr’s clearly enunciated spoken dialogue was loud and clear and his was a memorable comic portrayal.
The smaller parts, including the Viscount Cascada of Jon Thomas Olson, Raoul de St. Brioch of Andrew Tse, The Bogdanovitch of Thomas Geib, The Kromov of Kevin Miller, The Sylviane of Jennie Mescon, and the Olga of Noelle Currie were all done with flair.
The marvelous dancers were Wendy Chu, whose grace and charm filled the stage; Christian-Philippe Consigny whose balletic background enables him to heel kick and turn with astonishing precision; and the graceful Stephanie Garcia, all of whom made for formidable dancing.
The Grisettes were brilliantly danced by Wendy Chu as Lolo, Stephanie Garcia as Dodo, Kelly Vaghenas as Joujou and the Froufrou of Sara Laszlo, Cloclo of Lisa Ferraro and the Margo of Christian-Philippe Consigny rounded out the dazzling dancers.
The colorful ensemble included Jennifer Allenby, Lisa Ferraro, Julianne Frohlich, Elena Jannicelli-Sandella, and the versatile Wayne Olsen among others.
The costumes by Julia Cornely were fabulous; Anna Glawari’s Act 3 black gown sparkled brilliantly; the various medals that bedecked the Counts and Barons looked regal, and the Petrovanian’s were all colorfully dressed. The Grisettes singing and dancing “We’re the ladies of the chorus” were right out of the film “Moulin Rouge”.
The innovative sets as well as the stage direction were by Linda Lehr. Her genius made all the actions flow like champagne. The “fast freeze” was used effectively and the dialogue by Linda Lehr was whitty; The supertitle were clear and readable. Tyler Learned’s set and lighting designs were truly mood inducing.
The chorus sang with inspiration, the peasant song and “Vilia” were haunting and unforgettable. Both the men and the women in ensemble and separate gave their all!
The orchestra, under the inspired baton of Maestro and new Music Director Gregory Ortega was first class. It was like having Franz Lehár himself conducting this great 36 piece ensemble. Maestro Ortega captured the romance and “schmaltz” of the operetta style. The violin solo, during the love duet of Camille and Valencienne played by violin concertmaster Yelena Savranskaya, was sublime. During the bows by the conductor and cast onstage Ms. Savranskaya was in charge of the orchestra for the encore finale of “Girls, girls, girls!” The audience, who hummed along with the melodies clapped in cadence for the bows. Kudos also for violinist Diana Barkan.
In a very troubled world, The Regina Opera continues to give us joy through music, the antidote for all evils. “The Merry Widow” with its beautiful and timeless melodies and dances was the perfect entertainment at the right time.
Thank you Fran Garber President and Producer, and Linda Cantoni Executive Vice President, Treasurer Joseph Delfausse, Vice President Alex Guzman, and volunteer Marlena Ventimiglia for all of your efforts on behalf of the unique Regina Opera, Brooklyn’s own pride and joy. Bravo to all!