Wichita Grand Opera
Century II Concert Hall
225 W. Douglas Ave.
Wichita , Kansas 67202 316.683.3444 Admin Office
316.262.8054 Box Office
The Merry Widow
An Operetta in Three Acts
Saturday, February 12, 2011, 7:00 PM Sunday, February 13, 2011, 7:00 PM Century II Performing Arts Center, Concert Hall
Libretto in German by Viktor Léon and Leo Stein World Premiere: Theater an der Wien, December 30, 1905 Adaptation in English by Robert Johanson (book) and Albert Evans (lyrics) Used by arrangement with European American Music Distributors, LLC, and Glocken Verlag
Giurgi Boyukliev, Steve Heinz
Gregg Barnes, Stephen Dell'Aversano
Hair and Wig Design
Wichita Grand Opera Orchestra
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Hanna, the Widow Glawari........................................................................ Kallen Esperian
Count Danilo Danilovitsch, nephew to the King of Marsovia............ Michael Nansel*
Baron Mirko Zeta, Marsovian Ambassador to Paris................................ Terry Hodges
Valencienne, his wife.................................................................................. Lauren Sawyer
Camille de Rosillon, her admirer, a Parisian..................................... Dustin Peterson†
Njegus, aide to Baron Zeta................................................................... Matthew Rumsey*
Vicomte Cascada, an eligible Parisian..................................................... Luke Walker†
Raoul de St. Brioche, another eligible Parisian.................................. Patrick Greene*
Bogdanovitch, Marsovian Consul.......................................................... Charles Turley*
Sylvanie, his wife................................................................................. Mary Ellen Swords*
Kromow, Marsovian General...................................................................... David Settle*
Olga, his wife.................................................................................................... Ruth Carver†
Synopsis: ACT I. A ball is being held at the Marsovian Embassy in Paris. Valencienne, wife of Marsovian Ambassador Baron Zeta, is in an alcove with Camille, a young French aristocrat. Camille writes a love note on her fan, but she rebuffs him. Luckily, the Baron is preoccupied by the stupendously wealthy widow, Hanna Glawari. Marsovia’s banking system relies on the widow’s millions; if she marries a foreigner, the entire country will be bankrupt.
Hanna arrives, and suitors buzz around her, but she knows they’re after her fortune. Count Danilo Danilovitch also arrives and, exhausted, decides to take a quick nap. Upon hearing his snoring, Hanna reminds him that years before, his family wouldn’t permit them to marry because she was penniless. Baron Zeta, taking him aside, appeals to Danilo’s patriotism: it is his duty to marry Hanna and keep her sizable assets in Marsovia. Danilo refuses, but agrees to keep the foreign gold-diggers away from the widow.
Act II. The following evening, Hanna hosts a garden party at her Parisian villa. She leads the guests in authentic Marsovian dances and sings the Vilia song of Marsovia. Danilo arrives and is confronted by Baron Zeta, who has found the fan with the love note. Danilo recognizes Camille’s handwriting, and offers to find out which lady owns the fan. Valencienne surreptitiously retrieves her fan and tells Camille that he must desist. When Camille begs for a keepsake Valencienne presents him with the fan, on which she has written her reply.
Unfortunately, Zeta is headed to the garden for an emergency meeting with Danilo and his aide, Njegus, and glimpses his wife with Camille in the garden. Njegus, seeking to avert a genuine disaster, slips Valencienne out the back and replaces her with Hanna. To make the story believable, Hanna announces her engagement to Camille. The Baron is aghast – the Widow’s millions will now go to a Frenchman and Marsovia will be ruined. Danilo storms out furiously, and Hanna realizes that he still loves her.
Act III. Everybody meets at Maxim's, the famous restaurant, where the girls perform their famous can-can. By now Ambassador Zeta, convinced his wife is having an affair with Camille, decides to divorce her and, in the name of Marsovia, ask for Hanna's hand. She tells him that unfortunately, by the will of her late husband, she loses all her money if she remarries. Danilo interrupts her: if she loses everything, he can now propose. Triumphant, she explains that she loses the money because it becomes her new husband’s property! Valencienne calms the Ambassador by pointing out her reply on the fan: “I am a highly respectable wife.” Everyone rejoices as Hanna and Danilo lead the celebration.
To read more about the story and history of The Merry Widow, click here.
Winner of the Luciano Pavarotti Vocal Competition, American soprano Kallen Esperian has performed leading roles opposite many of the world’s greatest tenors, including Plàcido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras, and Carlo Bergonzi. She returns to Wichita Grand Opera following her stellar appearances as Mimí in La Boheme with Marcello Giordani and as Marguerite in Faust with Sam Ramey and Hector Sandoval. One of the world’s leading Verdi sopranos, her most-celebrated roles include Amelia in A Masked Ball, Desdemona in Otello, Mimì in La Bohème,Amelia in Simon Boccanegra,and the title roles in Aida, Norma, and Tosca. Ms. Esperian has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera Covent Garden, La Scala, Paris National Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and many more. She was featured in the film Distant Harmony with Luciano Pavarotti, and has worked with conductors including Zubin Mehta, Sir Colin Davis, and Daniele Gatti, to mention a few.
Michael Nansel Count Danilo Danilovitsch, Baritone
Michael, a former resident of Wichita, returns to Wichita Grand Opera after singing the roles of Zuniga in Carmen and Belcore in The Elixir of Love last season; and Fiorello and the Sergeant in The Barber of Seville the year before. Since 2004, he has performed with the Washington National Opera in the roles of Major Duomo in Andrea Chénier, the Bartender in the North American premiere of Sophie’s Choice, and Alcindoro in La Bohéme, among others. He is a crossover artist, equally at home on the operatic and musical theatre stages. He has received critical acclaim for his many performances. The Washington Post, reviewing his performance as Juan Peron in Evita, observed that “Nansel dominates the performances, displaying impressive dramatic range and a magnificent voice,” and the Arlington Sun Gazette said as Fred Graham in Kiss Me Kate Nansel “can control the stage with his personality.” Michael has also sung with Wolf Trap Opera and The Washington Savoyards.
Terry Hodges Baron Mirko Zeta
Bass-baritone Terry Hodges' stagecraft and vocal technique have assured him a busy career in opera and music theatre in the United States and Canada. Mr. Hodges is renowned for his portrayal of Dr. Bartolo in The Barber of Seville and he has been engaged for this role by Boston Lyric Opera, Pacific Opera Victoria, Opera Columbus and the Tulsa Opera. Recent and upcoming engagements include Don Magnifico in La Cenerentola at Pacific Opera Victoria, Gideon in Little Women for Calgary Opera, Dick Deadeye in HMS Pinafore for Nashville Opera, Benoit/Alcindoro in La Bohème for Vancouver Opera and Virginia Opera, and the role of Dulcamara in The Elixir of Love for Tulsa Opera. He appeared for Manitoba Opera as Frank in Die Fledermaus, for Tulsa Opera in The Little Prince, and took on the role of Leporello in Don Giovanni for Pacific Opera Victoria and Orchestra London. Mr. Hodges has more than 2000 performances of Phantom of the Opera among his credits.
Lauren Sawyer Valencienne
This season marks lyric spinto soprano Lauren Sawyer’s debut with the Wichita Grand Opera. Ms. Sawyer has been gaining international recognition for her interpretation of the Verdi, Wagner and Strauss repertoire; which has taken her to the stages of Lyra Ottowa, Komische Oper, and Seattle Opera. She has performed the roles of Elizabeth in Tannhauser; Leonora,in La Forza del Destino; Leonorain Il Trovatore; Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly; Marietta in Die tote Stadt; Rosalindain Die Fledermaus; and the title role in R. Strauss’ Daphne. A native of Boulder, Colorado, Ms. Sawyer is a three time regional finalist at the Metropolitan Opera Council Competition and a finalist in the international Stuart Awards competition. She has coached under Frederica Von Stade, Cynthia Lawrence, Greer Grimsley and Daniel Helfgot.
Martin Mazik Conductor
As principal conductor of the Slovakian National Opera in Bratislava, Maestro Mázik conducts more than 100 performances per season, including the operas La Traviata, Carmen, Don Giovanni, and The Elixir of Love. In addition, he has appeared with major opera companies and orchestras in Europe, Japan and The United States. Since January 2006, he has conducted two tours through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland totaling over 60 performances. He made his U.S. opera debut with Wichita Grand Opera’s Don Giovanni in 2004 and returned to conduct Die Fledermaus in 2005, Romeo and Juliet in 2007, A Masked Ball, La Bohème, and Faust in the 2007-2008 season, The Barber of Seville in the 2008-2009 season and The Elixir of Love last season.
Franz Lehar was born on April 30, 1870 in Komarom Hungary to Franz Lehar senior, a military bandmaster and composer, and Christine Neubrandt. Being born into a musical house, Franz learned to play the violin and piano before he could read or write. His mother encouraged free improvisation on the piano, and by age eleven, Franz had composed his first lied. Franz then attended the conservatory of Prague for six years.
In the summer of 1888, Franz began his first musical engagement in Barmen-Elberfeld and worked his way up to concertmaster. However, he did not enjoy all the concerts because it left no time for him to compose. To get out of this predicament, his father arranged his draft into the army. Franz began his military service in the band of the infantry regiment #50 conducted by his father. Father and son did not always agree, so Franz left and found a post as the bandmaster of the 25th infantry in Losoncz. Beginning in 1890 and for the next twelve years, Franz was a military bandmaster. To supplement his pay, Franz made band arrangements of folk songs, classical pieces and popular songs. In 1894, Franz was discharged from the military after an "incident" in which he did not follow his commanding officer's order to conduct a concert to the end. So Franz conducted the naval band in Pola, the naval port of the monarchy. In Pola, Franz met the poet Felix Falzari and began a collaboration to create his first opera Kukuschka. Publishers began to take interest in Franz, who gave up his post hoping to make his living as a composer. Unfortunately, while Kukuschka met with some popular success with the public, it failed to become the breakthrough that Lehar was looking for. So Lehar took up the military bandleader post in Triest and in 1898, Franz took the former post of his father for the infantry regiment #87 in Budapest. He eventually transferred to Vienna in 1899 as the bandmaster of the infantry regiment #26 and in 1902, he composed the waltz Gold and Silver that garnered him some of the international fame that he sought. Later that same year, Lehar gave up the military for good and received the position of musical director at Vienna's Theater an der Wien.
Franz began a friendship with Viktor Leon, a noted librettist and one of the most important and successful personalities of the Viennese operetta scene. Leon gave Franz a libretto for the operetta Der Rastelbinder that was accepted by the Carl-Theater, a direct competitor with the Theater an der Wien. This dual role as composer at large and conductor at the Theater an der Wien soon ended in 1902, but the real fame for Lehar was just around the corner.
Already a well-known character around Vienna, Lehar announced his new work to be produced for the Theater an der Wien on December 30, 1905 as Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow). The libretto was written by Viktor Leon and Leo Stein after Henri Meilhac's comedy Der Gesellschaftsattache. The operetta met with an instant success among the public (although the critics were divided) and was on the program almost continuously until March 1907. By April 1907, The Merry Widow celebrated its 400th performance. Later in 1907, The Merry Widow was performed in London and New York, with performances in 1908 in Copenhagen, Moscow and Milan; 1909 in Madrid and Paris and in 1910 in Brussels.
After the success of The Merry Widow, Franz no longer needed to worry about composing for a living. The royalties alone made him a wealthy man and he soon purchased a summer home in Bad Ischl, the playground of the wealthy. It was in Bad Ischl, that Franz met Sophie Meth, the daughter of a Viennese carpet dealer and already married. In 1906, they began a love affair that ended with Sophie's eventual divorce from her husband and subsequent marriage to Lehar in 1921. Although married, Franz insisted on maintaining his original style of autonomous living and insisted on separate apartments.
Lehar continued to write operettas although none achieved the same success as The Merry Widow. Throughout 1909 and 1910, he composed Peter und Paul im Schlaraffenland, Der Mann mit den drei Frauen, Das Furstenkind, Der Graf von Luxemburg and Zigeunerliebe. The latter three operettas gained in fame throughout the Viennese theaters in record breaking fashion. In three Viennese theaters during 1910, Lehar's operettas were performed 200 times in each.
During World War I, Lehar continued to compose operettas, lieder cycles, and symphonic poems. However the operetta scene was somewhat stagnant during this time of war. After the war, Lehar began an experimentation phase in search of new musical forms. Lehar also began a friendship with Giacomo Puccini that began in 1920 during a visit to Vienna by Puccini. Although Puccini's admiration for Lehar's work was genuine, Franz was greatly affected by the rejection of his work by Richard Strauss. In 1940, Strauss stated that "The danger, which threatens our whole cultural level by Lehar and his companions and to which it has already succumbed for the most part, can not be settled anymore with noble disregard."
In 1921, Lehar would begin a friendship that would dramatically effect his compositional life; he met the famed tenor Richard Tauber. Tauber's interpretation of Lehar's work entranced the composer as well as the public. During the remainder of the 1920s, Lehar wrote for Tauber's voice in the operettas Paganini, Der Zrewitsch and Das Land des Lachelns.
In 1933, Lehar composed Giudetta, a full fledged comic opera, which became Lehar's final work. During his final years, Lehar devoted himself to the Glocken-Verlag, a publishing house he founded in 1935. During World War II, Franz and Sophie faced a most difficult situation given that Franz had cooperated with Jewish librettists, and Sophie had Jewish originas. Fortunately for the Lehars, Hitler was an admirer of The Merry Widow so they escaped the brutality of the Nazi regime. Not so for Lehar's librettists, Fritz Grunbaum and Fritz Lohner who were eventually murdered in concentration camps. Franz and Sophie spent the remainder of World War II at their home in Bad Ischl, while their home in Vienna was ransacked. After a visit to Zurich to see Richard Tauber, Sophie died in 1947. In the summer of 1948, Franz returned to Bad Ischl to settle his estate. He gave his villa to the city of Bad Ischl on the condition that they turn it into a Lehar museum. Franz Lehar died on October 24, 1948. In 1958, a monument dedicated to the composer was created in Bad Ischl and the theater in the town is named after him.