Friday, December 11, 2009

....An Appreciation of Beauty and Artistry..."The Merry Widow" at Chicago's Civic Opera House

On a blustery cold Wendesday night, Mark and I met downtown at Chicago's Civic Opera House for the Lyric Opera production of Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow".  We had a raucous, sentimental, high-class wonderful time.

Even though my interest in opera has sharpened of late, I have not been to a live performance in many years.  So I was really ready and excited about the experience, despite the 90-minute bus ride into the city during a rush-hour snowstorm.

As a neophyte operagoer, I have to say that Wednesday's performance had me completely enchanted, and hooked for good, I think.  The delicacy and beauty of the voices rendering the most lovely---and often lively---music, the perfection of the colors in the sets and costumes, the intricate and effective lighting design, all served this lighthearted, romantic and well-loved material well.

I will not write beyond my level of expertise here and try to evaluate all of the nuances, the individual performances, or fathom how set design and lighting effects were achieved, nor will I give but the most  avid appreciation for the skill of the orchestra and actors, and the success of the direction, or the exquisite taste of the designers.  But I would be remiss in not singling out the major performers: Elizabeth Futral, in the title role as Hannah; Roger Honeywell as her likeable and rakish playboy-suitor Danilo; Stephen Costello in his Lyric Debut as Camille, erstwhile suitor to Hannah, but playing for the favors of Andriana Chuchman as Valencianne, wife of the town's elder statesman.

Lehar's opera was performed in English, with English overhead titles to help translate the lyrics rendered in proper diction and phrasing. "The Merry Widow" is a light operetta; most of the performance was spoken dialogue, like a play.  I was surprised at first that none of the performers voices was amplified...we had seats near the back of the orchestra, but the vocal projection was amazingly adequate. It is a comedy, with little of the blood and thunder of serious opera.  It was refreshment for our spirits, inspiring to our creative impulses, and i was proud to be among those who enjoyed it as well.

The sets immediately took my breath...all three acts provided such pleasure to the eyes.  I loved act two especially, in Hannah's mansion garden, as the smoky moon expands to occupy the deep blue backgraound of the sky, almost covering the backdrop, illuminating the silhouetted trees and gazebos and statuary, creating an aesthetically beautiful setting that was just right for the music.
I was familiar with most of the tunes, especially the sweeping "Merry Widow Waltz", the campy "Girls Girls Girls", the humorous "Maxim's" (I remember from the opening moments of the classic film, Grand Illusion).  But for me the emotional highlight was "Vilia", a song of such poignancy, perfectly capturing the sentimentality and regret of unrequited warmed me, like being in love warms one....

The Civic Opera is a gorgeous art-deco edifice with multiple balconies and gold-leaf gilding.  I know I will be back, as I start my operatic journey, and open my mind and senses to this singular of art forms.


  1. What fun, I love live theater and light opera, rarely ever get to go, though. You're lucky to live so close to where you can see such as that. And yes I heard Beverly Sills sing "Vilja" on PBS one time - a heartbreakingly beautiful song. And Sills really knew how to put it across, too.

  2. So glad you and Mark enjoyed your night at the opera. I am a recent convert to live theater and enjoyed your eloquent description of the whole opera experience so much that it's piqued my interest in seeing one myself. I've never been a big fan of opera (Italian arias and large women donning viking helmets don't do much for me I'm afraid) but this sounds like something I could really enjoy. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I've just come across your blog and this post. Sounds like a wonderful production at a wonderful Opera House, I hope I get to visit one day. Chicago seems to have a very strong opera scene.