Last night I went to Catholic University's Hartke Theater to see the Washington Summer Opera's [English language version] of The Merry Widow.

The chorus, basically a male chorus, and the orchestra were very good as was Hanna; at first I thought the same of Danilo who was very impressive booming out his first aria in full command not of the stage but of the theater. But as the night went on, he began sliding from operetta style to opera style.  Camille sang very well and physically fit the role;  Valencienne, although she sang well, was very very very very matronly and didn't  match Camille. In one scene, after they've been intimate on the ground, he has to lift her up and I was holding my breath while he did it. But she seemed to have a noticeable claque in the back.

Negus and  the other roles were adequate to good. The chorus was overwhelmingly male with the females being mostly dancers. And there was a dichotomy here. The male singers and the male dancers were so young they may have been mostly college or graduate students at CU's  music school. But the female dancers looked to be in their middle 30s; maybe it was just their makeup.

The set consisted of an art nouveau floral frame that stayed the same for all three acts and very simple [and inexpensive looking]  props and sets otherwise. The costumes for the men were mostly evening wear, those for the women were fin-de-siecle Parisian.

In several other productions I've seen, Hannah makes her entrance in Act I in mourning in a black dress, goes into peasant costume for the party in the second act, and has a cape in the third act.  When Danilo finally says "Yes" to her, she drops the cape and is in a spectacular white dress. This time I was disappointed because she came on stage in a silver lame / sequined / bugle beaded [????]  dress, with a black boa being her only mourning sign; so she couldn't do a flashy transformation in the last act. Instead,  in the third Act she enters singing an interpolated Meine Lippen Sie küssen so heiß from Giudetta, while being rolled in on a piano with her back to the audience.

The text of the song is serious and doesn't fit the Merry Widow [this was the only thing in German except for Brahms' lullaby ] so to show she wasn't being too  serious, she keeps singing the song straight but ends the song wearing another boa, maybe 15 feet long, stretching across the stage [ as gene and I saw the schtick  in 1960 in Finian's Rainbow at the City Center]. That relaxes the audience and tells it not to take things too seriously.

Again, it is good to hear unamplified singing voices. But also as usual - even in English - the text sung by the female voices was hard to understand. It's probably just as well because a lot of the lyrics sung by the males, although understandable, sounded clunky and strained. The German text is not always better but maybe by being already once removed from reality,  it jars less to hear silly or antiquated thoughts in German than it does in English. Then again, maybe they just used  a bad translation of the German.

I hadn't previously  been to the Hartke Theater and before I went, Bob M asked me what I thought of the theater, intimating there was something especially good about it. The acoustics were good as were the sight lines, [but then I was in the first row center on the aisle]. The theater was built of painted cinderblock, but it was still college-cinderblock construction. Probably  it is very good technically and from a spectator 's viewpoint it was better than most university theaters; the air conditioning left something to be desired.

But Bob's question actually raised another longstanding question with me about theater. This was Washington Summer Opera: the principals are [young] professionals, the chorus seems to be students, secondary roles are mixed. When I go to see a play put on by a community or college theater, I have different expectations that when I go to a professional theater. I wouldn't say my expectations are lower but they are different. But I often wonder how much I'm buying a brand name when I go to the theater.

On the one hand, I've been at operas in the Staatsoper Berlin and in the opera house in Göteborg [where I dragged Lars when I was visiting one time and learned he hadn't ever gone to the theater before]. I enjoyed both, although I know I "should" enjoy / appreciate / praise a production  at the Staatsoper  more than one in Göteborg, since the Staatsoper is world famous and the Göteborg stage is provincial. Unfortunately, however, I can be name-snobbish in other ways. If a piece of classical music I like were being played by the NY Philharmonic I would go; if it were being played by the Memphis Philharmonic, I'd more likely stay home and listen to the record of the NY Philharmonic, unless I were going to the concert for social reasons.

There were two intermissions, basically on the hot humid patio out front. On my way to the men's room, I saw a sign saying "Refreshments"; so when I came out, I went to it. I was wondering why all the people were clumping up in my way and why there was so much kissy-kiss going on. I got my drink and a handful of peanuts and fought my way out again through the crowd. When I got down to the main lobby, I saw a sign selling drinks [for an outrageous $3 a can of soda, even more than at the Kennedy Center]. Apparently this was the normal refreshmentent counter and I had gone to the free one for the patrons and donors to the opera company.





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