A wealthy widow is wooed by her adopted country’s most eligible bachelor in “The Merry Widow,” playing Friday and Saturday in San Luis Obispo.
“It’s one of the greatest musicals of all time,” director Ross Halper said. “It’s romantic and funny and sexy and a little mysterious, which never hurts.”
Composed by Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár, with a German-language libretto by Viktor Léon and Leo Stein, “The Merry Widow” premiered in 1905 in Vienna.
More than a century later, the three-act operetta continues to be Lehár’s best-known work — and a favorite among opera fans. In fact, it’s being produced by New York City’s famed Metropolitan Opera this spring.
Set during the Roaring Twenties in Paris, “The Merry Widow” centers on Hanna Glawari (Alexis Rubell), who has inherited a massive fortune from her late banker husband. Hanna is so wealthy that she would do irreparable damage to the economy of the fictional Grand Duchy of Pontevedro if she wed a foreigner and left the country.
To ensure that Hanna marries a native, Pontevedrian ambassador Baron Zeta (Ross Halper) orders his attaché, Count Danilo (Corey Hable), to make her his bride.
The two share a romantic past. But Danilo won’t court Hanna because of her wealth, and Hanna has vowed not to wed Danilo until he says “I love you.”
Meanwhile, Zeta’s wife Valencienne (Kristina Horácek) has been flirting with the French attaché to the embassy, Count Camille (Paul Osborne).
With love in the air, and intrigue underfoot, this group of romance-crazed aristocrats must waltz their way to happiness.
Halper, who plays Baron Zeta, said his character provides much of the comic relief.
“He’s a bit like Michael in ‘The Office,’” Halper said. “He has no tact and no self-knowledge … He’s pretty clueless.”
Halper wrote the English-language libretto for “The Merry Widow,” revising his own translation from 2002. He’s performed the operetta three times, including a 2001 production with what is now Opera San Luis Obispo.
“The Merry Widow” is Halper’s fifth production with Cal Poly Student Opera Theatre.
“It’s going to be extremely funny, so funny you’ll forget you’re at the opera,” Halper said. “It’s not going to be boring. … It’s going to be a hoot.”
Cal Poly lecturer and voice teacher Jacalyn Kreitzer, who founded the Cal Poly Student Opera Theatre program in 1994, said “The Merry Widow” represents a fun challenge for the 20-member cast and 34-member orchestra. Like the crew, both feature a mix of students and local and visiting professionals.
According to Kreizter, the production’s soundtrack features “12 very memorable melodies” including the “Merry Widow Waltz,” which film fans will recognize from the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Shadow of a Doubt.”
“People are going to go home whistling and humming these songs,” she said.
Audiences are also likely to remember the colorful costumes designed by Cynthia Cooley-Vest, who is retiring after 20 years of local theater. Phillip Lowry designed the sets.
Kreitzer said “The Merry Widow” will showcase the breadth of talent on the Central Coast while giving students – music majors and non-music majors alike – a chance to shine.
“The growth of these students is just phenomenal,” Kreitzer said, describing Cal Poly Student Opera Theatre as “a real confidence builder.” “It (represents) a beautiful growth of heart and soul to be able to get out there and do something like this.”
“The Merry Widow”
7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Spanos Theatre, Cal Poly
$18, $16 seniors, $9 students
756-4849 or www.pacslo.org