In Review > North America

The Merry Widow

DETROIT
Michigan Opera Theater
4/11/15

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Deborah Voigt and Roger Honeywell, Hanna Glawari and Count Danilovitch in Kelly Robinson's production of The Merry Widow at Michigan Opera Theater
© John Grigaitis 2015
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Aaron Blake and Amanda Squitieri
© John Grigaitis 2015
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Voigt and Honeywell
© John Grigaitis 2015

In her Michigan Opera Theater debut, Deborah Voigt appeared to be having the time of her life as The Merry Widow’s flirtatious Hanna Glawari (seen Apr. 11), her warm, down-to-earth presence completely at home in a fach considerably lighter than her usual dramatic soprano fare.  In her first performance of Franz Lehár’s chirpy score, sung in Sheldon Harnick’s English translation, Voigt dominated the stage with genuine charm, her glorious tone saturating every note with brilliant intensity, including her elegant “Vilia” in Act II.  As the boozy, proud Count Danilovitch, Canadian tenor Roger Honeywell brought considerable vocal weight to a talky role that gave him few chances to display his voice at its best. Honeywell’s chemistry with Voigt was palpable in Act II, kicked off with a cavalry duet that, for all its silliness, gave the two stars room to play both vocally and comedically. Honeywell never missed an opportunity for fun, including the male ensemble’s near-slapstick rendition of “Girls, Girls, Girls,” complete with kick line coda.

The sumptuous orchestra, conducted by Gerald Steichen, at first seemed to be calibrated to Voigt’s large-scale instrument, leaving the supporting voices overwhelmed in Act I; better balance allowed the other characters to come ardently to the fore in Act II.  Richard Suart gave a muted performance as the Petrovenian ambassador, Baron Zeta; as his wife, Valencienne, soprano Amanda Squitieri offered a shimmering, youthful soprano and a welcome gift for physical comedy in her clumsy participation with the can-canning Grisettes; it is no surprise that among Squitieri’s credits are musical theater roles. Tenor Aaron Blake sang with a bright, almost old-fashioned sound as Camille de Rosillon, his devotion to Valencienne underlined by the use of portamento and throbbing vibrato.  Broadway and Merry Widow veteran Jason Graae’s Njegus threatened to steal the show (from everyone but Voigt) with his impeccable timing, sparkling presence and easy rapport with performers and audience alike.

The lavish, exuberant production, helmed by Canadian director Kelly Robinson in his Michigan Opera Theater debut, was new to Detroit and complemented by a grand Art Nouveau production design originally conceived by Michael Yeargan (sets) and Susan Memmott-Allred (costumes) for Utah Symphony and Opera. The Jugendstil aesthetic permeated every element, and the effect was further heightened by the production’s unified use of color. In Act I, Voigt’s crimson gown was a stunning counterpoint to the ornately embellished black and white of the embassy setting; the voluptuous red setting of the recreated Maxim’s in Act III was punctuated by crisp tuxedos, while Voigt’s Hanna, contrary to the last, made final her entrance in romantic ivory.

The Merry Widow is a lighthearted romp, programmed not for its relevance but for the indulgent pleasure it gives. The fun was front and center at the Detroit Opera House, with Voigt the merriest one of all. spacer 

JENNIFER GOLTZ-TAYLOR

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