The Merry Widow | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Merry Widow

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THE MERRY WIDOW

Most of the productions I've seen of this quintessential Viennese operetta--including Light Opera Works' previous stab at it, in 1984--have been too broad in their comic strokes and too condescending in their handling of the codes of conduct of a bygone era. The premise may be antiromantic (a wealthy widow being wooed for her fortune in fin de siecle Paris) and the leading man (a prince who accepts an indecent proposal to save his duchy from financial ruin) vaguely unsavory, but Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow is in the end about true love triumphing over sinister motives and mixed signals. For a director, the challenge is to make us believe that the lovers are indeed meant for each other, to draw out the emotional vulnerabilities from beneath the cynical facades. This revival is directed by Kerill Strezhnev, head of the musical comedy theater in Boris Yeltsin's native city of Yekatrinberg, and his approach is decidedly Russian, with an emphasis on dance and pantomime. In one promising move, he's settled on a minimalist set of columns and swings through which the show's central emotional moment, "The Merry Widow Dance," will weave, underscoring the symbolic role of the waltz as seductive foreplay. A possible pitfall: Strezhnev, who doesn't speak English, is working with a libretto translated into English from German. Heading the cast are soprano Debra Rentz and baritone Troy Clark, both relative newcomers to the regional opera circuit. Harrison McEldowney of the River North Dance Company is the choreographer, Roger L. Bingaman conducts, and Strezhnev's longtime collaborator Sergey Aleksandrov is responsible for the set and costumes. Saturday, 8 PM, Sunday and Tuesday, 2 PM, Wednesday and next Friday and Saturday, January 2 and 3, 8 PM, and next Sunday, January 4, 2 PM, Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston; 847-869-8300. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Rich Foreman.

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