Originally created 09/13/98

Opera season opens with humor, song



The Merry Widow, the Augusta Opera's first production of the season, has more movement, dialogue, dancing and laughs than a usual night at the opera house.

Though it was written by Austrian composer Franz Lehar before the advent of Broadway, The Merry Widow is almost like a musical theater piece, said soprano Catherine Lamy, portraying the role of Hannah Glawari, the story's merry widow.

"It really feels like Hello Dolly to me," said Arlene Schler, the Augusta Opera's marketing and development director.

The Merry Widow, opening Wednesday at the Imperial Theatre, is technically considered an operetta, a lighter form of opera, like last year's season opener, The Pirates of Penzance.

"The music needs operatic singers, but it's lighter than real opera," said Ms. Lamy. "But Broadway singers can't do it."

The story is set in 1900s Paris as the Pontevedrian ambassador plots to find a new husband for his country's wealthiest widow, upon whom the tiny Balkan province depends financially. But the man he chooses, Danilo -- played by tenor Michael Hayes -- isn't quite the perfect match. When the two run into each other, it's apparent they were once in love and -- depending on which character is to be believed -- spurned each other.

When told of the ambassador's betrothal plans, Danilo refuses to marry Hannah and save her millions for the state, but he agrees to deter other men from pursuing her.

This leads to a series of mind games and comical manipulations as Danilo and Hannah work out the frustrations of their past and ponder moving forward together.

"It's a story of men and women and the games we all play," said Ms. Lamy.

To make sure everyone gets the jokes, English supertitles will be projected above the stage.

And to help the opera singers with the operetta's can-cans, waltzes and other dance pieces, Augusta Ballet artistic director Peter Powlus is handling the choreography and eight of his dancers will be in the production.

"We're trying to get the singers used to movement, keeping in mind their forte is singing," said Mr. Powlus.

Mr. Hayes, who lives in College Park, Md., and has performed with the New York City Opera and the Atlanta Opera, admitted that the non-singing portions of The Merry Widow are difficult.

"To my knowledge I've never been hired for my dancing," said Mr. Hayes. "It's something we don't do much of -- even acting is a particular challenge."

Ms. Lamy scoffed at that notion.

"Watch it," she warned, giving her co-star a sharp elbow jab. "To make it believable and not sound hokey is where the challenge is."

Apparently, she is believable as an operatic actor. Opera News described Ms. Lamy, who is also a performer with the New York City Opera and the Houston Grand Opera, as "a real singing actress . . . a rare treat."

The collaboration with the ballet and the scheduling of The Merry Widow during the Arts in the Heart Festival, which takes place Friday through Sunday at the Riverwalk, was a deliberate attempt by the city's major arts organizations to pull together, according to Mrs. Schler.

Ticket buyers who have an Arts in the Heart Festival badge can get $2 off on tickets to Saturday's and Sunday's performances of The Merry Widow.

On stage

What: Augusta Opera's The Merry Widow

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.

How much: $12-$40

Phone: 826-4710