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Pacific Opera Victoria.

In our time, Franz Lehar may have eclipsed Emmerich Kalman in the operetta hall of fame stakes, but during the first half of the 20th century, the two fellow Hungarians were considered equals in the Silver Age of Viennese operetta. In fact, when Kalman's Countess Maritza is given full justice, she can easily give Lehar's ubiquitous Merry Widow a run for her money. Unfortunately, Act I of Pacific Opera Victoria's production (seen Apr. 25th) was plagued by so many missteps and missed opportunities that it was never a real race, though the delightfully fizzy second half very nearly tipped the balance in the Countess's favour.

Setting aside opening night's technical difficulties with mics used for spoken dialogue--some characters had no amplification, while others were too loud--both director Linda Brovsky and conductor Timothy Vernon must take responsibility for the dreariness of the interminable first Act. It certainly wasn't the singers' fault.

The principal cast was more than capable of delivering Kalman's wonderful melodies and his effervescent fusion of the elegant Viennese waltz with the earthier Hungarian czardas. Tenor Adam Luther shone as the suddenly penniless Count Tassilo who has taken a job as Maritza s new bailiff, incognito, in order to pay for his sister Lisa's dowry. Handsome, charming and expressive (something he has not always been in previous POV outings), Luther acted well, sang beautifully, and danced respectably.

In the title role, soprano Leslie Ann Bradley plays a wealthy Countess grown so weary of men pursuing her for her money that she invents a fiance--who, in a meta operetta reference, turns out to be Baron Koloman Zsupan, the fictional pig farmer from Strauss's The Gypsy Baron. One could see and hear the change in Bradley as she transformed from Tassilo's haughty employer to his ardent admirer.

As the real-life Baron Zsupan, tenor Michael Barrett Barrett turns up at Maritzas estate after hearing of their 'engagement'. Barrett did well with the bantering dialogue, making his Baron endearingly silly, rather than buffoonish. He quickly realizes he's actually more interested in Tassilo's sister Lisa (the bright, sparkling soprano Suzanne Rigden) than the Countess.

Another standout was actor Nicola Cavendish as Tassilo's aunt, Princess Bozena. She comes to tell her nephew that, through a series of wild machinations involving a Texas oilman, she has rescued him from penury. Brian Linds plays her servant Penizek, a former theatre prompter who knows Shakespeare's every line and does not hesitate to use them. With their skill, honed through years of doing Coward and Wilde, these two veterans mined the potential of even the most pedestrian script. Surely there must be a better English version of the spoken dialogue; the English translation of the libretto also lacked both poetry and style. Still, Cavendish and Linds managed to make the audience roar with laughter throughout the final Act.

And thank goodness for that. The sheer ridiculous fun of Act III--and the almost-as-fun Act II--was a long time coming. There were a few who left the theatre at intermission convinced it would never arrive, which was a shame.

So, what then, was the problem with Act I? Well, it all stems from the fact that Kalman and his librettists Julius Brammer and Alfred Griinwald included a large dollop of melancholy early in the show, particularly when Tassilo sings of his yearning for his past life in Vienna. This seems to have convinced director Brovsky to emphasize nostalgia over humour and she missed multiple opportunities for silliness. At the same time, conductor Vernon indulged his love for this music by stretching the tempi practically to the breaking point. His balances, too, were off, and it was hard to hear any of the singers over the orchestra. The result was lead instead of froth.

Patrick Clark's lovely set and costumes deserve special mention. Clark recalled the landscape paintings of Gustav Klimt for the set's dappled backdrop, overlaid by beautiful art nouveau-style ironwork in the garden scenes. For the aristocrats, he chose the elegant, soft silhouettes of the early 1900s rather than the straighter, sportier 1920s look from the years of the operetta's premiere. His designs ensured everyone looked fabulous even when other aspects of the production went amiss.--Robin J. Miller

Caption: Scene from Abridged Opera's Cendrillon
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Title Annotation:VICTORIA
Author:Miller, Robin J.
Publication:Opera Canada
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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