A rollicking operetta set in glamorous Paris with waltzes and polkas galore. That’s The Merry Widow. Beloved by audiences worldwide since its debut in 1905, Franz Lehár’s masterpiece is a sparkling mix of unforgettable tunes, high fashion, and comic delight.
Who will the fabulously wealthy French widow marry? It’s complicated and the fate of the fictional country of Pontevedro hangs in the balance. Uncork the champagne! The Merry Widow is a charming, bubbly production that will waltz itself into your heart.
The production of The Merry Widow is lovingly sponsored by Leslie McIntosh in memory of her parents, Ken and Mary McIntosh. They both loved opera and visiting Vashon Island.
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Meet the Artists
Approximately 2 hours, 20 minutes (including one 25-minute intermission)
It’s Paris in 1900. A festive party is underway at the Embassy of Petrovenia, a small, insignificant and nearly insolvent Balkan duchy. The guest of honor is Hanna Glawari. Fabulously rich from her late husband’s estate, the beautiful Hanna is looking for a new husband who isn’t just after her fortune. Baron Zeta, the Petrovenian ambassador, wants Hanna to marry one of her countrymen so that her treasure stays at home. If she doesn’t, impoverished Petrovenia could go bankrupt.
The ambassador is promoting Count Danilo, a nephew of the Petrovenian king, but there’s a catch. The two were former lovers but Danilo’s parents nixed marriage because Hanna was poor. Now she’s wealthy beyond belief but Danilo’s pride prevents him from proposing. Besides, he loves his party-going bachelor life. He does, however, agree to sabotage the efforts of several gold-digging, high-class Parisian suitors. An affair between Baron Zeta’s wife Valencienne and Camille, a young French dandy, that includes an incriminating message scrawled on a lost fan, further complicates the situation.
Hanna hosts a party at her villa. She sings a folk ballad (Vilja) about the love of a huntsman for a maiden of the woods. Baron Zeta learns that Camille is in love with a mystery woman but doesn’t suspect it’s his wife. A comedy of errors ensues with the fan as the pivotal prop. In the end, Hanna confounds everyone by announcing her engagement to Camille. Baron Zeta is furious. So is Danilo, who realizes his true feelings for Hanna. He heads for Maxim’s, his favorite cabaret, to drink his sorrows away. Watching Danilo’s reaction to her rejection of him, Hanna understands that Danilo truly loves her and this makes her happy indeed.
The party and story continues to unfold at Maxim’s. Hanna’s engagement to Camille was a ruse, she explains, a made-up story to protect another woman’s reputation. Danilo is delighted but his straight arrow conscience about sharing in Hanna’s immense wealth continues to keep him from proposing. She then reveals that her late husband’s will states that if she remarries, she loses her fortune. When the money-hungry bachelors hear this, they totally lose interest, leaving Danilo free to propose with his pride intact. Hanna joyfully accepts. And surprise! The fortune Hanna forfeits if she remarries? The will says it goes instead to her new husband! The happiest ending imaginable.
- Performance notes by Eugene Carlson
About the composer
Franz Lehár was the leading operetta composer in the twentieth century. In 30 productions he single-handedly revived the operetta form and gave it a new relevance. His singular masterpiece, The Merry Widow, gave him immense fame and continues to be performed before audiences world wide.
Born in Hungary in 1870, Lehár’s musical career path was set from the start. His father composed marches and directed a military band that regularly played the operetta repertoire of Johann Strauss the Younger and Jacques Offenbach.
Young Franz was sent to the Prague Conservatory at age 12, where he studied violin and was advised in composition by Antonín Dvořák. He wrote dances and marches and at age 16, his first opera.
He moved to Vienna in 1902, played in the band led by his father, and eventually succeeded him, the youngest bandmaster in the Austro-Hungarian army. With a gift for melody, especially memorable waltzes, his composing career also flourished. His operettas reflected the charm of traditional Vienna — sacher torte and kaffee mitt schlag - and nostalgia for the past at a time when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in a long, slow decline.
His biggest success came early, at age 35, when he was asked to write the music for a libretto based on an old French comedy. The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe), a three-act comic romance, was a box office smash, a financial bonanza for Lehár, and kicked off a revival of Viennese operetta.
There is, however, an unavoidably shady side to Lehár’s biography — his links to Germany’s Third Reich in general and Adolf Hitler in particular. Lehár could have gone into exile but chose to remain for most of World War II in Axis-contolled Vienna, where his wealth continued to build and where he lived in style in an impressive house once owned by theater impresario Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist for Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
Lehár wasn’t a Nazi but he knew how to survive under Austria’s Nazi-controlled regime. Many of his musical colleagues were Jews. His wife, Sophie, was Jewish but converted to her husband’s Roman Catholicism, when they married. Aware of the Nazi’s anti-Semitic obsession, Lehár used his connections to protect Sophie by having her officially declared an “Aryan of honor through marriage” (Ehrenarierin). He tried to prevent the arrest of Louis Treymann, the first Danilo in The Merry Widow, but the 70-year old Treumann and his wife were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp where they died. One of Lehár’s librettists, Fritz Löhner-Beda, was murdered in Auschwitz, despite the composer’s plea to Hitler himself.
Hitler, in fact, loved Lehár’s music. He referred to The Merry Widow as “the equal of the finest opera,” an endorsement that only added to Lehár’s wealth. In the final years of the war, Hitler reportedly played a recording of The Merry Widow over and over at his Wolf’s Lair hideaway in the Polish woods. The Fürher personally awarded Lehár Germany’s Goethe Medal. The composer reciprocated, dedicating music to Hitler and giving him a signed copy of the debut Merry Widow performance program as a birthday present.
Lehár was defensive in later years about his wartime behavior, arguing that he hadn’t been compromised by Nazi connections. “My conscience is clear,” he said at one point. “My Merry Widow was Hitler’s favorite operetta. That’s not my fault, right?”
Lehár died in 1948, age 78, in Bad Ischl, an Austrian spa town near Salzburg, where he owned an impressive villa. His much younger wife died the previous year.
- Performance notes by Eugene Carlson
About the Operetta
It’s no exaggeration to call The Merry Widow the most successful show of its kind ever written. In the four years after its 1905 Vienna debut, it was reportedly performed 20,000 times in opera houses and concert halls around the world. Its popularity has continued to the present day, a nearly foolproof winner for opera companies and musical theater.
Audiences reluctant to tackle weighty operas or baffled by modern atonal scores smile and swoon over the instantly hummable melodies of this bubbly operetta. The wealthy decadence of Hapsburg Vienna transported to anything-goes Parisian cafe society where everyone smiles, drinks and dances the night away.
The Merry Widow magic — sublime music, rhythmic waltzes, extravagant costumes, and comic confusion — has continued to beguile modern audiences. It is, after all, a rom com at heart with a fiery, self-assured young woman at the center of the show. Contemporary sopranos who have sung the role of Hanna Glawari include Joan Sutherland, Kiri Te Kanawa, Beverly Sills, Renée Fleming and Susan Graham.
It’s difficult to appreciate the impact of this blockbuster show, not just in the music world but on popular culture. In the years after its opening, it spawned its own merchandise. There were songbooks and a hugely popular fashion item, the wide-brimmed Merry Widow hat, adorned with feathers and chiffon. Americans drank a Merry Widow cocktail — gin and sweet vermouth with a dash of Pernod and bitters strained over ice with a lemon twist.
There were a series of Merry Widow movies, beginning with a silent film starring Mae Murray and John Gilbert and directed by Erich von Stroheim. A black-and white movie followed, starring Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier, and in the 1950s, a Technicolor release with Fernando Lamas and Lana Turner, with Ms. Turner’s singing voice blessedly dubbed. The movie versions took huge liberties with the operetta, in story and music, but the source was clear.
Margot Fonteyn, Patricia McBride and Peter Martins danced in some of the several versions of Merry Widow ballets. The operetta has been adapted for TV in numerous productions in the United States on public television, and in Europe.
Not least, Franz Lehár’s musical hit kept operetta alive well into the 20th century under composers Victor Herbert, Sigmund Romberg and stars like tenor Mario Lanza.
With The Merry Widow’s monumental and lasting cultural impact, it’s startling to realize that its birth was a near thing. Librettists Viktor Léon and Leo Stein seeking a composer for their adapted story, first approached Richard Heuberger, a prolific Austrian composer, now largely forgotten. His draft score bombed. The secretary of Vienna’s prestigious Theater an der Wien then suggested a young composer and former army bandmaster, Franz Lehár, who famously won the job with an audition over the telephone!
Despite a first-rate cast, the show’s producers grew increasingly nervous during rehearsals. Sensing failure, they offered five thousand crowns to shut down the production. A misjudgment for the ages! Vienna had been saturated a century earlier by the music of “The Waltz King,” Johann Strauss II, who brought waltzes to the public. The city was primed for a revival. The Merry Widow opened at Theater an den Wien on Dec. 30, 1905, and ran for 483 performances in its opening run. It’s estimated The Merry Widow was performed a half-million times throughout the world in its first 60 years.
- Performance notes by Eugene Carlson
Jennifer Krikawa (soprano) was recently seen singing Blanche in Vashon Opera’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire and Musetta in Vashon Opera's 2019 production of La Bohème. She has sung for numerous opera companies such as New York City Opera, Virginia Opera, Connecticut Opera, Sarasota Opera, Opera North, Augusta Opera, Annapolis Opera, Central City Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, and Israel Vocal Arts Institute. Jennifer's roles include: Fiordiligi (Così Fan Tutte), Mimi (La Bohème), Micaela (Carmen), Musetta (La Bohème), Laurie (The Tender Land), Gretel (Hansel und Gretel), Pamina (Die Zauberflöte), Frasquita (Carmen), Antonia (Les Contes d'Hoffman), Tatyana (Eugene Onegin), Giorgetta (Il tabarro), Nedda (I Pagliacci), Tosca and Madama Butterfly. Mrs. Krikawa has appeared at Carnegie Hall as the soprano soloist for Scarlatti's Dixit Dominus, Vaughan William's Benedicite, and Poulenc's Gloria and has appeared at Benaroya Hall as soloist in Mozart's Requiem and Soprano II in Mozart's Mass in C Minor with the Vashon Island Chorale. She pursued contemporary music studies at The Banff Centre for the Arts and she holds a master's degree from The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Her awards include First Place NATS winner, First Place Opera Theater of Connecticut Amici Competition, Olga Berzins Vocal Scholarship Award, Metropolitan Opera National Council Regional Finalist in Boston and Metropolitan Opera National Council Honorable Mention in Connecticut. She has recorded a CD titled "Songs of Walt Whitman" composed by Malcolm Peyton with Centaur Records. Ms. Krikawa looks forward to leading Vashon Opera into its 12th Season with Cavalleria Rusticana and The Merry Widow.
Brendan Tuohy (tenor) was recently seen singing the role of Harold Mitchell (Mitch) in Vashon Opera's production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Mr. Tuohy's roles with Vashon Opera also include Tamino in The Magic Flute, Chevalier de la Force in Dialogues of the Carmelites, Albert in Albert Herring, Ferrando in Così fan tutte and Martin in The Tender Land. He spent most of the 2014-2015 season performing with several companies in France. Mr. Tuohy performed his role debut of Tito in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito with Opéra Orchestre National de Montpellier. This season also included his role debut as the title role in Mozart’s Idomeneo with OONM as well as singing Diomede in Cavalli’s recently rediscovered opera Elena with l’Opéra d’Angers-Nantes and l’Opéra de Rennes. This role has been a staple for him the past two seasons after he performed it with Festival d’Aix en Provence in the summer of 2013. Mr. Tuohy in 2014 had the opportunity to sing Male Chorus with the Vespertine Opera, he made his hometown Tacoma Opera debut as Alfredo Germont in La traviata, his Opera Memphis debut as Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore and was the tenor soloist in Oregon Symphony’s and Seattle Symphony’s performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. As a former member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio program, Mr. Tuohy performed the roles of Conte Almaviva in HGO’s new production of Il barbiere di Siviglia, 1st Prisoner in Fidelio, Brighella in Ariadne auf Naxos, Ferrando in Così fan tutte, Goro in Madama Butterfly, Tchaplitsky and the Major Domo in Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame, and 1st Noble in Wagner’s Lohengrin. Tuohy graduated from the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (CCM) with a Masters Degree in Vocal Performance. In 2008, he had the honor of singing and competing in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Semi Finals in New York.
Charles Robert Stephens
Charles has enjoyed a career spanning a wide variety of roles and styles in opera and concert music. In his 20 years in New York City, he sang leading roles with the New York City Opera and was hailed by the New York Times as a "baritone of smooth distinction." He also appeared frequently in Carnegie Hall with the Opera Orchestra of New York and was active in regional opera throughout the US. On the international stage, he sang opera roles in Montevideo Uruguay, Taiwan, Santo Domingo and Mexico City. Now based in Seattle, Charles has sung with the Seattle Symphony on numerous occasions, Northwest Sinfonietta, Tacoma and Spokane Symphony, Spokane Opera, Portland Chamber Orchestra, Oregon Symphony and many other orchestras and opera companies in the Pacific Northwest. Among the many collaborations with early music expert Stephen Stubbs is the role of blind Tiresias in the Boston Early Music Festival's lavish production of Steffani's Niobe, Queen of Thebes. He premiered the roles of Rudyard Kipling in John Muehleisen's cantata entitled But Who Shall Return to Us Our Children? A Kipling Passion, now available on CD, and baritone soloist in Nuclear Dreams by Reginald Unterseher (inside Reactor B at Hanford!) He can also be heard on the prize- winning CD, Heaven to Earth. Recent performances included performances of Messiah, Haydn’s Creation, Beethoven’s Symphony # 9, Bach Christmas Oratorio, Scarpia in Tosca, Melchior in Amahl and the Night Visitors the Father in Hansel and Gretel and Mozart Requiem.
A committed young soprano, Mackenzie Taylor is thrilled to make her professional operatic debut with Vashon Opera. She is currently studying with Dr. Soon Cho at Pacific Lutheran University as a recipient of the Agnes Berge Smith Music Scholarship. She was honored to be named a quarterfinalist in the 2021 National Association of Teachers of Singing Student Competition last year. Before and during college, Mackenzie has enjoyed performing in Seattle with the 5th Avenue Theatre, singing in their productions of The Sound of Music and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. During her time at Pacific Lutheran University, Mackenzie has been selected to work with prestigious members of the opera community such as sopranos Lisette Oropesa and Tamara Wilson. She has sung the roles of Susanna in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, The Vixen in an English version of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, and Rosalinda in Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, directed by both Dr. James Brown and Barry Johnson. She has also served as the Department Music Tutor for three years. As a proud member of The Choir of the West conducted by Dr. Richard Nance, Mackenzie was selected to solo in the International Chamber Choir Competition held in Marktoberdorf, Germany, in 2019. She most recently sang the role of Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro with the Utah Vocal Arts Academy, during which she performed for soprano Deborah Voigt and mezzo soprano Jennifer Larmore. Mackenzie is currently applying for graduate schools with hopes of pursuing a career in music.
A native of Tacoma, Washington, Namarea Randolph-Yosea will be making his professional debut as Camille in the Vashon Opera production of The Merry Widow. Mr Randolph is currently completing his Master of Music in Vocal Performance at the University of Houston under the tutelage of Melanie Sonnenberg. There at the Moores Opera Center, he performed the title role in Albert Herring, the Ringmaster in The Bartered Bride, and the Trio Member in Trouble in Tahiti, which won First Prize (online division) from the National Opera Association 2021. During the summer of 2021, Mr Randolph returned to Tacoma, Washington to perform Prince Tamino in Die Zauberflöte with Pacific Lutheran University. In the summer of 2019, Mr Randolph understudied the role of Prince Hilarion in Princess Ida for the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society. He also was a Studio Artist for the Puget Sound Concert Opera, covering the role of Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Mr Randolph completed his Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance at Western Washington University in 2019. Roles performed there included Nerone in L’incoronazione di Poppea, Le petit vieillard in L'enfant et les sortilèges, and Fakir in The Secret Garden. In 2018, he sang in the ensemble of Porgy and Bess with Seattle Opera. This summer, he will appear as an Apprentice Artist at Des Moines Metro Opera, where he will cover the role of Mingo in Porgy and Bess and appear in concerts and scenes.
Hailed by the New York Times for his “robust voice, agility and confidence,” Robert McPherson made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Basilio in Le Nozze di Figaro and stepped in as Idreno for their production of Semiramide. Additionally, McPherson’s performance as Andres in Houston Symphony’s live recording of Alan Berg’s Wozzeck, culminated with a 2018 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in the Classical category. Most recently Mr. McPherson made his Off-Broadway debut in the premiere of Trump L’oeil at Florence Gould Hall, where he was nominated for Best Solo Performance by Broadway World, sang Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia for Opera on the James, and created an exclusive performance of Gabriel Kahane’s Craigslistlieder for Tacoma Opera. McPherson’s discography includes work in Andrew T. Miller’s The Birth of Christ recorded on Sony BMG Masterworks, also shown on Public Broadcasting Service and reprised in Rome at the Vatican’s invitation; On Hampton Roads Music, McPherson sang the tenor solo in Berlioz’s Requiem with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, which Gramophone said, “[he] sings the challenging tenor lines… with tender urgency.” His Rossini recordings and videos include Idreno in Semiramide, Iago in Otello, Gernando/Ubaldo in Armida on Dynamic, and Arbace in Ciro in Babilonia on Opus Arte. McPherson has performed his self-written comic show, The Drunken Tenor, throughout the Pacific Northwest, and created custom digital content under the same moniker. In 2021, he debuted A Very Drunken Christmas Carol, his adaptation of the Dickens classic, in partnership with Seattle Opera. A Seattle native and baseball fan, he regularly sings the national anthem at Seattle Mariners games.
Hugh Davis is a dedicated young baritone aspiring to make a career in both Opera and Art song. He was recently a semi-finalist in the 2021 National Association of Teachers of Singing Competition and a semifinalist in the 2019 James Toland Vocal Arts Competition. Hugh has spent two consecutive years at the prestigious summer program Songfest where he's performed in Schubert masterclasses and concerts curated by Graham Johnson, one of the world's leading experts in Art Song. While attending Pacific Lutheran University Hugh has sung the roles of the Forester in Leoš Janáček's opera The Cunning Little Vixen, Dr. Falke in Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, the Pirate King in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, and most recently the title role of Julius Caesar in Händel’s Giulio Cesare. Hugh has also performed the role of Jupiter in an english version of Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld at the Utah Vocal Arts Academy. Hugh has performed many times with his hometown’s opera company Vashon Opera. There he has sung roles such as Thierry in Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, The Jailer in Puccini’s Tosca, and Marchese d'Obigny in Verdi’s La Traviata. Later this year Hugh will perform the role of the Learned Judge in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury at PLU opera.
Arthur Keast, a young versatile baritone, is excited to make his professional debut as St. Brioche in this The Merry Widow production. Arthur is a senior pursuing a Bachelor’s of Music in Vocal Performance at Pacific Lutheran University and has performed in eight PLU opera productions. His recent roles include the title role of Handel's Julius Caesar (January 2022), Papageno in Mozart's Magic Flute (summer 2021) and Frank in Strauss’ Die Fledermaus (May, 2021), all directed by Dr. James Brown and Prof. Barry Johnson. Arthur was a 2018 Peninsula School District Student of Distinction in Music and sang the national anthem at his class’s graduation ceremony of Gig Harbor High School. Since then, he has performed more than 100 solo concerts in Washington state, singing classical and American songbook pieces. Two weeks after The Merry Widow performances, Arthur is also anxious to perform the role of the Learned Judge, double casted with Hugh Davis in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury and various opera scenes at 7:30pm, May 20th and 21st at Karen Hille Phillips Center on the PLU campus. It will be directed by Dr. James Brown and many PLU singers who perform for The Merry Widow will be performing too.
Conductor, Stage Director, Musical Director, and Orchestral Arranger
James Brown enjoys an eclectic career of conducting, concertizing as a singer, stage directing, and voice teaching. He is the Chair of Vocal Studies at Pacific Lutheran University where he directs the opera and oversees a large voice program. His voice students have gone on to study at graduate programs such as Indiana University, The Juilliard School, University of Michigan, Northwestern University, and Yale University. As a tenor, James sang in many professional opera productions under the batons of such conductors as James Conlon, John DeMain, Richard Hickox, Julius Rudel, and Robert Spano. As the regular conductor and stage director for Vashon Opera, James has led productions of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Carmen, Cosi fan tutte, Les Dialogues des Carmélites, Die Fledermaus, Don Giovanni, Eugene Onegin, Madama Butterfly, I Pagliacci, Tosca, and Werther. Other notable productions as stage director include Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Kurt Weill’s Street Scene, Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, Handel’s Semele, La Boheme and a critically acclaimed production of Sweeney Todd (Lakewood Playhouse). Recent productions for James include Die Fledermaus and Die Zauberflöte at PLU Opera, Cavalleria Rusticana for Vashon Opera, and directing Trouble in Tahiti for the Reno Chamber Orchestra. James was a Resident Artist at The Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and holds degrees in voice from Loyola University/New Orleans, The Juilliard School and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Performance & Rehearsal Pianist
Evan Stults is an accomplished vocal accompanist whose experience spans opera, recital, musical theatre, choral music, and cabaret. Evan is the founding musical director of the Vashon Opera, and accompanied island productions of A Streetcar Named Desire, La Traviata, The Magic Flute, La Bohème (2009 & 2018), The Tender Land, The Barber of Seville, Carmen, Eugene Onegin, Werther, Die Fledermaus, Albert Herring, The Elixir of Love, Pagliacci Palooza, Dialogues of the Carmelites, Tosca and Lucia di Lammermoor. Evan recently completed a distinguished run as the principal accompanist for the Seattle Men’s Chorus since 1986, retiring from that position this year. He has played for the Seattle Opera and Seattle’s Fifth Avenue Theatre, toured the US and Canada for Columbia Artists and Community Concerts Association, and played for dozens of musicals in professional and community theatres and off-Broadway. Evan’s accompanying career includes international tours and performances in Carnegie Hall, Benaroya Hall, and leading concert halls across the US. He has accompanied artists as diverse as Frederica von Stade, Renee Fleming, Kristin Chenoweth, and Harvey Fierstein, and has played for premieres of new works by composers David Diamond, Gian- Carlo Menotti, and John Corigliano.
Julie Gibson danced professionally with Spokane Ballet, Ballet Theater of Central Pennsylvania and Seattle’s ARC Dance. She is also an aerialist training and performing with the Silk Worms on Vashon Island. Julie has choreographed for the Vashon Opera’s productions of Eugene Onegin, Die Fledermaus and Don Giovanni. She graduated from the University of Puget Sound and lives on Vashon Island with her husband and two teenagers where she works from home in a technology field and teaches ballet at Vashon Dance Academy.