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Gypsy Love, Light Opera Works, at Northwestern University, Cahn Auditorium. Though less familiar than The Merry Widow, which preceded it by five years, this 1910 delight abounds in gorgeous melodies, and its plot is surprisingly imaginative for a silver-age operetta. Here Franz Lehar returns to the Romany-flavored czardas and folk dances of his native Hungary. Free-spirited Transylvanian heiress Zorika must choose between Jonel, her approved suitor, and dashing Gypsy fiddler Jozsi. A dream helps her decide by disclosing her future with the Gypsy. (Her future with the respectable Jonel is all too predictable.) Will Zorika's dreams of romance triumph over inhospitable reality?

No escapist confection, Gypsy Love depicts the cultural gulf separating the Gypsy and landowners' attitudes toward women and marital fidelity. This authentic Light Opera Works staging benefits from the expertise of Hungarian director Hegyi Arpad Jutocsa (who also worked wonders with Kalman's Countess Maritza last season). Neither stodgy nor campy, his revival respects the music (dynamically conducted by Harold Bauer), the dances (definitively staged by Kramer Gyorgy), and the rustic setting (beautifully evoked by Richard and Jacqueline Penrod's set and Kurt Schnabel's lighting).

Thrilling singing makes these three hours fly by, thanks to Lori Ann Fuller as the anguished fiancee, John Christian Edward as the roving Gypsy, and Gerald Frantzen as her devoted other suitor. Most marvelous is Kathy Pyeatt as the Gypsy's worldly-wise admirer: she turns every phrase into a discovery and makes it look easy.

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