New Philharmonic brings 'The Merry Widow' to Glen Ellyn Jan. 24-26

  • On Jan. 24-26, New Philharmonic will present "The Merry Widow" in the Belushi Performance Hall at The MAC in Glen Ellyn. The production, sung in English with English subtitles, will be set in the audacious, stylish, fun and madcap 1920s.

    On Jan. 24-26, New Philharmonic will present "The Merry Widow" in the Belushi Performance Hall at The MAC in Glen Ellyn. The production, sung in English with English subtitles, will be set in the audacious, stylish, fun and madcap 1920s. Courtesy of McAninch Arts Center

 
Submitted by Natalia Dagenhart
Updated 1/10/2020 9:09 PM

"Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood," wrote Irish poet Oscar Wilde. This thought is brightly reflected in the operetta called "The Merry Widow" by the Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár. Before reaching a happy ending, the main characters go through numerous intrigues, misunderstandings and comic situations, and New Philharmonic is happy to present this beautiful masterpiece to its audiences.

The performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 24-25, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, at the McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Stunning music, terrific sets, talented directorship, wonderful singers, amazing costumes and great lighting -- the audience will experience it all while enjoying New Philharmonic presenting "The Merry Widow" at the beautiful Belushi Performance Hall at The MAC.

Thanks to the hard work, enthusiasm and mastership of artistic director and conductor Kirk Muspratt, stage director Michael LaTour, lighting designer Elias Morales, projections designer Jon Gantt, stage manager Isabelle Rund, and costume/wig/makeup designer Kimberly G. Morris, this production promises to be unforgettable.

And, of course, Lehár's score with its beautiful waltzes, gorgeous arias, and rustic Eastern-European folk elements makes this operetta a must-see production.

Besides having a complex, fun and intriguing plot, "The Merry Widow" is also interesting because it is operetta, which is different than opera. Operetta includes spoken dialogue, songs and dances. It is considered to be a short and light musical drama similar in structure to a light opera but characteristically having a romantically sentimental plot. Operetta is the Italian diminutive of opera and was used originally to describe a shorter and in some ways less ambitious work than an opera.

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"What's great, because it's operetta, it is (a sung) piece, then spoken dialog and action, like a Broadway show. Because it is operetta, there is a lot of room for comedy and different accents, as if you are French or Cascada," said Maestro Kirk Muspratt to McAninch Arts Center Director Diana Martinez in an interview for Backstage Buzz at the MAC. "It's hilarious! It is my favorite operetta!"

Being one of the gems of Viennese operetta, "The Merry Widow" features a libretto by Austrian-Hungarian librettist Viktor Léon and Austrian playwright and librettist Leo Stein. The libretto is based on an 1861 play, a comedy called "L'attaché d'ambassade" (The Embassy Attaché) by French dramatist and opera librettist Henri Meilhac. The operetta premiered at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on Dec. 30, 1905.

Although it is a famous production that has been performed all over the world for more than a century already, "The Merry Widow" faced a lot of obstacles on its way to success. The librettists and theatre producer first collaborated with Austrian composer Richard Heuberger, but Léon and Stein were not satisfied with Heuberger's music, and later Lehár was asked to write music for this operetta. The initial performances were criticized, but soon theaters and audiences around the world were amazed by the beauty of "The Merry Widow" and its light and charming music and plot.

New Philharmonic's production, sung in English with English subtitles, will be set in the audacious, stylish, fun and madcap 1920s.

This three-act operetta tells a story about a rich Pontevedrian widow Hannah Glawari who once was a poor girl but managed to marry a very rich old man who died a few days after their wedding. Such a lesson for many old rich men, but in this operetta it is not the case. What is important for her countrymen is to make sure that her late husband's fortune does not leave the country. So, Baron Mirko Zeta and his wife Valencienne decide to give a reception in honor of Hanna at the Paris embassy of the Principality of Pontévédro. They plan to find her the right husband.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Count Danilo seems to be the ideal candidate, but in the past his father rejected Hanna because she was poor, although the two young people loved each other. Now that she has become rich, Danilo doesn't want her to think that he is only attracted to her money, so he pretends to be indifferent.

Meanwhile, Valencienne flirts with the French attaché to the embassy, Count Camille de Rosillon, who writes "I love you" on her fan. She writes back that she is "a respectable wife," but keeps flirting and makes her husband upset. Hanna tries to save Valencienne's reputation pretending that she, and not Valencienne, was with Camille in the summerhouse, and it makes Danilo jealous. Danilo, though, finds joy partying with dancing girls at la Café de Maxim. The misunderstandings keep unfolding while the women keep tricking the men. Eventually, the two happy couples reunite while Pontevedrians and French discuss the challenge of understanding women.

New Philharmonic is happy to present a beautiful cast for this production. Award-winning American soprano Alisa Suzanne Jordheim will portray Hannah Glawari. She has been seen at the MAC in New Philharmonic's 2017 and 2018 New Year's programs, New Philharmonic 2017's "The Best of Broadway: Rodgers & Hammerstein and Andrew Lloyd Webber" and in the role of Yum-Yum in the New Philharmonic's 2017 production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado."

Acclaimed American baritone Jesse Donner will portray Count Danilo Danilovitch. He was most recently seen at the MAC in New Philharmonic's 2019 production of Strauss II's "Die Fledermaus." Donner just performed the role of Danilo in the St. Petersburg Opera production of "The Merry Widow" among many other interesting and challenging roles at various prestigious stages.

An American rising star, soprano Katherine Weber, will portray Valencienne. Previously, she was seen in New Philharmonic's "Ode to Joy" concert and also performing the roles of Rosalinde in Strauss II's "Die Fledermaus" in 2019 and Violetta in Verdi's "La Traviata" in 2017. Weber garnered acclaim in the title role of Chicago Opera Theater's 2018 Chicago premiere of Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta."

Renowned American tenor James Judd will portray Camille de Rosillon. He was most recently seen at the MAC in the September "Ode to Joy" concert and in the role of Alfred in New Philharmonic's January 2019 production of Strauss II's "Die Fleidermaus." Judd enjoys an active performance career both regionally and beyond.

Talented American baritone Aaron Wardell, who has been praised for his rich voice, will portray Baron Mirko Zeta. Greek-American Baritone Evan Bravos, marked as a "young talent to watch" by the Chicago Tribune, will portray Vicomte Cascada. Acclaimed tenor Matthew Greenblatt will portray Raoul de St. Brioche. Greenblatt made his MAC debut in "Show Boat and Show Tunes" in 2018. Famous American baritone Douglas Peters will portray Bogdanovitch. An emerging international artist, soprano Brooklyn Snow, will portray Sylviane. Talented baritone Reuben Lillie will portray Kromow. A Chicago-based soprano, actor and multi-instrumentalist, Allison Selby Cook, will portray Olga. Brilliant baritone Ian Hosack will portray Pritschitsch. Skilled mezzo-soprano Erika Morrison will portray Praskovia, and proficient artist Lisa Khristina will portray Zo-Zo.

Stage Director La Tour will be featured in a cameo role as the clerk Njegus. Michael La Tour has worked professionally as an actor, singer, dancer, mime, clown, designer, choreographer, director and producer. He is on staff at The Ryan Opera Center of The Lyric Opera of Chicago as a master teacher and stage director.

This brilliant cast will be supported by a twenty person ensemble of chorus, grissettes and supers. Hailed by Rheinische Post as a "born opera conductor," Maestro Muspratt knows exactly how to make this production unforgettable. "The Merry Widow," one of the most ravishing operettas in the world, will touch the heart of each and every member of the audience, with New Philharmonic swirling in the charming and colorful waves of Lehár's music.

For tickets or more information, call (630) 942-4000 or visit www.atthemac.org. Tickets are $59.

Immediately after each performance, Maestro Muspratt, singers and musicians cordially invite everyone to participate in "Cookies with Kirk" in the lobby, sponsored by Brookdale Glen Ellyn.

Natalia Dagenhart

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