Converse Opera Theatre and the Spartanburg Repertory Company are giving classic opera The Merry Widow a new twist, setting the comedy that originally took place in a pretend Slavic country at the turn of the 20th century in an extravagant future much like The Capitol in the popular Hunger Games series.
This joint effort by Spartanburg’s two opera companies will be presented Friday-Sunday, Jan. 22-24, 2016, at Converse College.
The Merry Widow, written by Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár, was first performed in Vienna, Austria, in 1905. The operetta tells the story of rich widow Hanna Glawari who plans to remarry but wonders if she will ever find a suitor who pursues her for her heart rather than for her riches. As one of the wealthiest people in her native country of Petrovenia, the nation will be left bankrupt if Glawari decides to wed a foreigner. In order to make sure this doesn’t happen, the nation’s Baron and its citizens devise a plot to marry her off to debonair Count Danilo Danilovitch.
However, the plan is complicated by a secret love affair that forms between the Baron’s wife Valencienne and the French attache Camille de Rosillion. With flirtation and schemes at every turn, The Merry Widow is a light-hearted journey of politics and love.
Typically set in the high-society ranks of Paris at the turn of the century, this production will be set in an “extravagant future society comparable to The Capitol in The Hunger Games series,” according to The Spartanburg Repertory Company (SRC) board member Aimee Dumouchel Gans. The opera group is taking the creative liberty in order to appeal to a younger crowd and include more educational elements.
“This production lands somewhere in the space between fantasy and real life conquests,” Lindsey Brakhage, Opera Graduate Assistant at Converse College, said. Katie Jo O’Neal, performing the role of Hanna in the production, added, “At moments, the audience can’t help but to connect with Hanna’s emotional struggle to find love. With witty dialogue, sweeping score, and easy to follow plot, it’s the perfect opportunity to invite a friend who has never experienced the world of opera.”
One of the most well known operettas in modern repertoire, Lehár’s comedy will come to life under the musical direction of Dr. Keith Jones, Professor of Voice and Choirs at Converse College and Conductor of Converse Chorale. The Merry Widow will feature Lehár’s time-tested score featuring audience favorites “Vilja,” “I’m Going to Maxim’s,” “Merry Widow Waltz,” and others. SRC board member Gans and Dr. Stafford Turner, Visiting Assistant Professor of Music and Theatre at Converse College, will co-manage the production’s stage direction.
The show will also feature costumes by Melissa Owens, sets by Meg Tominaga, and lighting by Boone Hopkins, all three of Converse College. “Artistically, we have chosen to create a unique and highly stylized world very similar to The Hunger Games Capitol concept with emphasis on color and nature,” Brakhage said. “We made this choice intentionally to create a production that is just as intriguing visually as it is musically.”