What Makes 'The Merry Widow' Merry?
Franz Lehar's sensual story, brilliantly
reflected in its vibrant score, brings us the
time-honored plot, "Boy Meets-Loses-Gets Girl"
in the mythical kingdom of Pontevedro . The
Girl: Hanna Glawari. The Boy: Count Danilo,
chargé d'affaires at the Pontevedrian Embassy in
Paris , where the story takes place. The two
were once in love, but could not marry since she
was a "commoner."
At an Embassy party,
Hanna exposes the reason for her merriment,
"For love seldom ignites so many hearts within
But just one frank look at my
bankbook explains my mysterious power."
Widowhood has left her heiress to twenty million
francs after a conveniently brief marriage to an
Hungarian composer Lehar,
born in 1870, was captivated by Slavic melodies
he heard in his travels as conductor of military
orchestras to faraway outposts of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire. These melodies wind
through the endless chain of wishes and
passions, of kisses and embraces in The Merry
Carolyn Coefield’s coloratura
soprano voice brings Hanna to life opposite
Chris Johnson’s Danilo on September 25 and 26.
Megan King, Gennard Lombardozzi, Robert Aaron
Taylor, and Billings businessman Chris Montague
complete the cast. Maestro Andy Anderson
conducts the Rimrock Opera Orchestra and Dr.
Chris Sheppard prepares the chorus. Choreography
is by Krista Marshall. Douglas Nagel produces
Robert Aaron Taylor
Olga: Mary Ryan
Lance E. Hansen
Kromov: Nate Liptac
Maid: Sharon Harris
Kristy Dallas, Kelly Deiling, Erin Small, Steve Green,
Lance E. Hansen, Josh Head, Shirley Herman,
Nate Liptac, David Otey, Aaron Pagniano, Janie Rife, Shelly
Ryan, Mary Ryan, Mike Ryan, Judy Schwager,
Quentin Staton, Kristin Van Luchene,
Grisettes: Maria Day-Margot,
Kristy Dallas-Dodo, Hannah Bondurant-Gigi,
Jessica Courtney-Lulu, Mary Erickson-Fifi, Janie
Choreographer: Krista Marshall
Costume Director: Loretta Wittmer
Costume Director: Marie Thompson
Director: Angie Stidham
Lighting Designer: Alex
Rehearsal Pianist: Sandi Rabas
Sets: Utah Festival Opera
Director: James Lyden
English Text: Pocket Opera,
Dress Rehearsal Photographs
News and Press
‘Merry Widow’ dresses up, steps up
JACI WEBB Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Friday,
September 24, 2010 12:15 am
The purple and red feathered hats have been
assembled, the men’s can-can rehearsed, the
orchestra poised to soar through Franz Lehar’s
epic score. All looked ready Monday for Rimrock
Opera Company’s staging of “The Merry Widow”
this weekend at the Alberta Bair Theater. But
conductor Andy Anderson had a last-minute sermon
for his vocalists: “Think uber diction.”
Since the opera is sung in English, it seems
like an easy chore. But American vocalists speak
and sing English with relaxed pronunciations,
like “git” instead of “get,” that led to
It’s all those
details the audience shouldn’t have to think
about that put the shine to the opera. Between
Anderson and Rimrock Opera Company’s producer
and director Douglas Nagel, those pesky
distractions that could mar a polished
production will be gone by Saturday night.
“This is a beautiful production,” Nagel said.
“It’s opulent. The clothes are brand-new. Every
chorus woman will wear a hat, some that have
bird nests and all with feathers. It’s just
those touches that give them the elegance.”
Krista Marshall, from the School of
Classical Ballet, was enlisted to work on
choreography, which will include a men’s can-can
during a silly scene where the male leads and
chorus belt out a song about women. Billings
teenager Maria Day, who has grown up singing in
the Rimrock Opera Chorus for Kids, will perform
a solo ballet during the staging.
done an amazing job with choreography. Wait
until you see the men’s kick line, it will bring
down the house,” Nagel promised.
Marshall, who has never choreographed an opera
before, but has performed in the “Nutcracker”
many times, said bringing dance to opera is a
“You have to be real conscious
about the main priority, which is the singing,
so every little turn matters,” Marshall said.
Now in its 12th season, the ROC has grown
into a company that nurtures local talent while
it continues to draw national performers and
produce quality shows. Two of the leads, Chris
Johnson (Count Danilo Danilovitsch) and Gennard
Lombardozzi (Camille, Count de Rosillon), grew
up in Billings, graduating from Senior and West
high schools, respectively.
Coefield, who plays the title role of the widow
Hanna Glawari, is an adjunct voice professor at
Rocky Mountain College, and many members of the
33-member cast have ties to Billings. Only one
cast member, local actor David Otey, is making
his ROC debut. Everyone else has performed in at
least one Billings opera, including Robert Aaron
Taylor (Baron Mirko Zeta), who commutes from New
York City to help stage Billings operas.
Anderson and his wife, Megan King (Valencienne),
live in Alabama, but have been involved in
several Billings operas. The new ROC chorus
master, Daren Small, is a West High graduate and
now teaches in School District 2.
really pleased with our artistic balance,” Nagel
said. “I think I’m empowering people who grew up
in Montana to become professional vocalists.”
One special cast member brings a host of
memories about the 2002 ROC production of “Merry
Widow,” featuring the late Ed Harris. Harris’
widow, Sharon, will play the role of
Valencienne’s maid, which was written just for
her by Nagel. Harris played the Baron in the
2002 production. Sharon said she has had some
tearful moments watching the production come
together, but then she feels Ed comforting her.
“I am very aware that Ed is in the theater
and when I become too emotional, I hear Ed
saying ‘Listen to Doug and focus,’ ” Sharon
said. “Ed would definitely have encouraged me to
be part of this show.”
CASEY RIFFE/Gazette Staff Robert Aaron
Taylor as Baron Zeta in Rimrock Opera's "The
Merry Widow" Friday, September 10, 2010.
CASEY RIFFE/Gazette Staff Robert Aaron Taylor as
Baron Zeta, left, with Megan King as
Valencienne, and Gennard Lombardozzi as Camille
de Rossilon in Rimrock Opera's "The Merry
Widow." Friday, September 10, 2010.
CASEY RIFFE/Gazette Staff Carolyn Coefield as
Anna Glawari and Chris Johnson as Danilo
Danilovitsch are the leads in Rimrock Opera's
"The Merry Widow." Friday, September 10, 2010.
22, 2010 Billings Outpost
Merry Widow’ this weekend; KJERSTEN
A refined group of
classical musicians, a proud number of whom have
mixed roots in Billings, will present the
Rimrock Opera Company’s upcoming production of
Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow,” a tale brimming
with laughs and love affairs.
Coefield, performing the lead female role of
Hanna Glawari, and Gennard Lombardozzi, singing
Camille’s character, talked to me about their
love and encouragement for opera, and
specifically “The Merry Widow.”
Both of these
musicians started their musical careers as young
instrumentalists, eventually switching to and
pursuing voice on a professional level. Coefield
is now an adjunct professor of music at Rocky
Mountain College, where she also received one of
her degrees in music.
At the encouragement of
Lombardozzi’s college voice teacher, this West
High School graduate, after initially dragging
his feet, went on to study and fall in love with
opera in graduate school.
What is your favorite part of opera?
Coefield: “I love to study it.
I love the research of a role, and I like to
rehearse. And then the performance is just kind
of like the icing on the cake.”
Lombardozzi: “The most exciting part
for me is the collaboration that happens on
stage between the characters, the energy between
the performers … . I also have a huge love for
the technique of voice in opera. Getting the
efficiency of your sound takes a long time and a
lot of training, it’s a challenge.”
What do you like or think is unique
about “The Merry Widow?”
“What I really love about it is that it’s so
accessible. I think anybody can fall in love
with this opera. The music is very singable, the
characters are very real. There’s comedy and
romance, kind of all the best things of a light
an operetta, a little lighter, a little
light-hearted. I think it’s easy on the
audience. When they leave, they’ll be smiling
and happy – there’s no one dying or anything
like that. It caters to dancing with a lot of
waltzes. I think it’s easy to listen to, and
then with the plot being comedic, it’s easy to
With such dated material, how do you
relate to your character/the plot?
Coefield: “The story is very
timeless. It’s something that we see played over
and over in films and in books. Sure, in a more
contemporary fashion, but the whole idea of a
romance gone sour and then rekindled back to
life and in the end ultimately witnessing a
joyous reunion, that’s something we see very
often. It’s not an uncommon storyline for that
fairytale romance that everybody likes to enjoy
and escape with.”
“As a performer, you find things in a character
that you can relate to in your own personality.
And then, at least this is how I go about it,
you try to make it as real as possible, but
still you exaggerate parts of maybe your
personality that you have or a personality trait
that you can see in somebody else.
Doug [Nagel, ROC’s general director] is having
me play it, my character is a romantic,
lust-filled, at-the-woman kind of guy. And I
think everybody has a little bit of that in them
or they want to. So you just take that feeling
and you exaggerate it.”
What do you want people to know about
Coefield: “I think
for newcomers to opera, this is a wonderful
introduction. I hope that people wouldn’t shy
away from it because it has the tagline of
opera. I think that can sound intimidating to
people who are new to it. If you want to try
something new, this is a terrific way to get
With this feel-good storyline
and a young but incredibly talented and
passionate crew, “This opera sells itself,” said
The two couldn’t rave enough
about Nagel and his fresh perspectives as well
as the other musicians involved.
Billings-rooted musicians in this production
include Chris Johnson, a Senior High graduate,
who is Danilo, the lead male role. The choir
director, Daren Small, teaches in Billings
School District 2 and graduated from West High,
as did Kristy Dallas, who performs Sylvaine.
Like Coefield, Lance Hansen, singing St.
Brioche’s role, graduated from RMC with a degree
in vocal performance.
The Alberta Bair
Theater will host two showings of “The Merry
Widow,” this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at
3 p.m. Call the ABT box office for tickets and
more information at 256-6052.
By SHARIE PYKE -
For The Outpost
My piano teacher, Kathleen Rogerson, was a
conservatory graduate. She taught me with a
drink in one hand and a pencil in the other,
correcting my mistakes in rhythm by rapping on
the top of my head. She instilled in me a love
of music along with a deep-seated suspicion of
opera, and sopranos in particular. They sounded
like yowling cats, she said.
Opera has converted me. I’m not just a believer,
I’ve become addicted to the live performance. I
love the costumes, the sets, and above all the
singing. When the curtain finally goes down at
the end of each performance, I get that same
wonderful, sad feeling I have when I finish the
last page of a brilliant novel.
Opera’s fall production of Franz Lehar’s “The
Merry Widow” didn’t disappoint. While the
original performance in Vienna in December 1905
was in German, the Billings production was in
English. Since “The Merry Widow” is an operetta,
the dialogue is spoken, not sung, which brings
it closer to the American musical, at least in
I laughed at the hokey plot with
its Late Victorian naughtiness. Hanna, the Merry
Widow, flirts with everyone but is really pining
for the love of her youth, Donilo. Count
Camille, the epitome of the French lover,
pursues the fair Valencienne, unfortunately
married to the sweet but aging Baron Zeta.
Adultery is rampant, but who cares?
This is Parisian marriage, we’re told; bed
hopping is both a rite and a right.
Rimrock Opera interpretation was superb, the
casting right on. I was especially pleased with
baritone Chris Johnson’s performance as Donilo,
the widow Hanna’s former heartthrob. He has a
real stage presence and hit not just the notes,
but the nuances his character required.
Carolyn Coefield as Hanna reminded me of Vivien
Leigh as Scarlet at the beginning of “Gone with
the Wind.” She sparkled.
unlike Scarlett, is no debutante. As Donilo says
to her, “The children have grown up, whether
they wanted to or not.” Both Hanna and Donilo
have a past. Will they find their way back into
each other’s arms? Of course, they will.
This is a comedy.
Megan King as
Valencienne and tenor Genard Lombardossi as
Camille are the emotionally adulterous couple.
Both are strong actors as well as vocalists.
Mr. Lombardossi’s Camille was very
acrobatic. He not only hit every note, he didn’t
miss a sight gag or pratfall.
of this production would be complete without
special attention to the choreography by Krista
Marshall. Maria Day, a high school sophomore,
danced a superb folk solo at the opening of act
And Paris wouldn’t be Paris without a
line of kicking chorines at Maxim’s a la
Who attends the opera?
A cross section of Billings. Last weekend’s
audience included cowboys in their best hats and
boots, pretty teenagers in short, shimmery
dresses, and a 7- or 8-year-old girl with her
mother, dressed in her Sunday best. My favorite:
a young man sporting a Mohawk, a tux complete
with white shirt and bow tie, his feet encased
in a pair of tenny runners.
Bravo, I say!
And bravo to Rimrock Opera Company. Their next
opera is the tragedy, “Tosca,” on Apr. 30 and
May 1, 2011. Bring your hankies.
Rimrock Opera Company. All rights