The Merry WidowBy
A Performance at Franklin Park Arts Center
I had the distinct pleasure of attending a performance of The Merry Widow on Saturday, April 14. The play was held at the Franklin Park Performing Arts Center in Purcellville, Virginia. Produced by the Loudoun Lyric Opera group, this Franz Lehar comic opera made its 1905 debut in Vienna. It went on to become one of the best known operettas of its time. In its one hundred-plus year history, the opera became the basis of ballet productions, various films, and even a French television show.
The plot centers upon a recent widow who inherits a large sum of money, and a cast of characters who try to wield influence over her. Set in the Parisian Marsovian Embassy, comedy ensues as love and greed serve as the motivation in winning the heart (and money) of widow Hanna Glawari. Directed by Loudoun’s Meredith McMath, the performance was as colorful as it was spirited. The cast of more than twenty donned in-period costumes that were detailed and stately.
Played by Melissa Jean Chavez, the widow Glawari is sought by suitors employed by the embassy. Chavez’s powerful voice made her well suited for this role, which she filled with resounding presence. The role of Count Danilo Danilovitch was played by Gregory Stuart, in a performance both confident and dramatic. Tasked by the Ambassador to persuade the widow to marry a Marsovian, thereby keeping her money within their small country, he becomes the man who finally wins her heart.
Music Director Cuong Van delivered an expert performance all his own. There was never any doubt of the talent required in playing the complex, albeit merry, musical score. Both he, and the other performers, carry an impressive background in the performing arts. The Choreographer, Kelly Gray, did a wonderful job of bringing to life the actors and believably conveying the era represented. Many of the actors backgrounds can be accessed here: LoudounLyricOpera.com.
While I’m not an educated patron of opera, this production was both engaging and comical. I appreciated the attention to detail in terms of character expression, choreography, and lively energy of the cast. The minimal set allowed the audience to focus on the performance and subtle character personalities that were always present regardless of position on stage.
The lighting left something to be desired with sometimes harsh lighting stage front and dim lighting to the rear. This is likely a result of the available equipment at Franklin Park, and did not distract the audience from a well delivered performance. The small stage, at times, was just barely capable of supporting the full cast. Again, not a distraction, but obvious at times. However, we’re fortunate to have such a wonderful venue, and talent, here in western Loudoun. The Merry Widow runs through next weekend. I recommend that you make time to see this wonderful production.