'THE MERRY WIDOW'
• RATING: ***
• WHERE: Foster Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
• WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday (professional leads); 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday (student leads)
• RUNNING TIME: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including two intermissions
• TICKETS: $10 for student performances; $27-$53 other shows
• INFORMATION: 338-2100 or www.galloarts.org
A wealthy young widow has fun teasing an old flame and a slew of money-hungry suitors in "The Merry Widow."
The 1905 Franz Lehar operetta is filled with waltzes, romantic melodies and opulent mansions. Presented by Townsend Opera Players and California State University, Stanislaus, the production at the Gallo Center for the Arts offers a joyous depiction of gay Paris at the dawn of the 20th century.
Some places and character names are different from those featured in the 1934 movie starring Jeanette McDonald and Maurice Chevalier and the 1952 remake starring Lana Turner and Fernando Lamas.
Though the spoken dialogue is corny and the nearly three-hour running time is too long, the singing and music are more than satisfying.
Directed by Joseph Wiggett, this production features professionals in lead roles with CSU, Stanislaus, opera students in supporting parts. Three student understudies will step into lead parts for Thursday and Saturday's discounted performances.
Carrie Hennessey, who leads the professional cast, is a mischievous delight as Hanna Glawari, the title character. Whip smart and playful, she easily manipulates all of the men in her life. Vocally, Hennessey shines brightest in her ballad "Vilia," about a man who falls in love with a forest witch.
Vincent Chambers is charming and fun loving as Count Danilo, the widow's ex-boyfriend who is not sure if he's ready to give up the playboy lifestyle. He and other male cast members dance in a chorus kick line for the show's best number "Girls Girls Girls." Sunday's audience went wild for the dance.
Blessed with a booming voice, Eric Graber is comically clueless as Baron Zeta, an ambassador from Hanna and Danilo's fictional home country of Pontevedro. While he laughs at friends who have straying wives, he has no idea that his wife is on the verge of having an affair.
Ani Maldjian, who plays his wife Valencienne, and Owen McIntosh, who plays her admirer Camille, dream about running away together but never have the guts to do anything about it. Their voices blend well together in their frequent duets.
Getting lots of laughs are Donn Bradley as the Baron's over-burdened assistant Njegus and Adam Serpa and Ryan Fikejs as the widow's most persistent suitors Cascada and St. Brioche.
Courtney Nance, Max Hosmer and Vanessa Rosas will play Hanna, Danilo and Valencienne during the student performances.
As usual, Corey Strauss' sets are stunning. He designs two ornate mansions with long staircases. The audience applauded Sunday when one mansion was transformed into Maxim's nightclub with golden chandeliers.
That nightclub was soon filled with lovely young girls high kicking the can can. Choreographer Ginger Sharp provided the steps to that dance and the frequent waltzes performed by elegant society couples.
The elegant attire, including ball gowns and tuxedos, was rented from West Bay Opera in Palo Alto.
Principal conductor Ryan Murray made sure the large orchestra sounded crisp and vibrant.
Depicting a world where nobody works and everybody seems to spend most of his or her time flirting and attending parties, "The Merry Widow" provides escape from everyday life.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2313.