NEW PHILHARMONIC EXPANDS ITS OPERA PROGRAMING WITH
THREE PERFORMANCES OF
Franz Lehár’s “THE MERRY WIDOW”
AT THE MAC JAN. 24-26
Pictured Katherine Weber (far R) with cast in Act I
All photos are by John Cebula Esq.
By Catherine Hellmann
I am very much a City Girl. It takes a strong lure to get me to the suburbs, even though my elder daughter brags, ”Mom, there is always free parking!” But the long haul out to Glen Ellyn at College of DuPage (where, yes, there was indeed plenty of free parking) to the McAninch Arts Center on a dreary night to see The Merry Widow was worth the drive.
The Merry Widow is an operetta by Franz Lehar which means it has spoken dialogue interspersed between songs; this production is sung in English but still has the supertitles above the stage so nothing is missed. All of these factors make the performance much more palatable to patrons who may not be “opera people.”
Plus, it is a funny script and story.
Set in Paris, Baron Zeta from the fictional country of “Pontevedro” is concerned that his troubled nation is going to go (sssh! Don’t say this word!) “bankrupt.” A plan is hatched to keep the money from a rich young widow in their principality. A “Cinderella story” is explained where a poor farmer’s daughter, Hannah Glawan, was wooed relentlessly by a very wealthy older man until she finally agreed to marry him. He died shortly after their nuptials, leaving her with millions. Hannah is pursued by all the eligible bachelors in Paris, who are more interested in her purse holdings than her. “It’s not me they’re in love with, it’s my bank account,” she laments.
Pictured: Alisa Jordheim in Act II
Hannah’s old love was a boy from her childhood, now known as the Count Danilo Danilovitch. At their first reunion, he is upset that she married the old man. Hannah tells him,”When one is a woman and poor, one does what she has to do.” The Count actually still loves her, but feels that if he courts Hannah now, it will appear to be only for her money. I doubt this will be seen as much of a “spoiler” if I reveal that the two original lovers do wind up together at the end, and Pontevedro is saved! All’s well that ends well.
Adding to the humorous plot is the blatant affair the Baron’s wife, Valencienne, is conducting with a local Frenhman who is an officer. The Baron refers to his wife as “a symbol of virtue” as she repeatedly sneaks away with her lover, Camille de Rosillon. The Baron’s cluelessness is an amusing motif; Baritone Aron Wardell does a nice job as the foolish Baron. Valencienne (a lovely Katherine Weber) calls herself a “respectable wife,” but is anything but that description.
Another funny, ongoing bit is the list of honorary titles given to the Baron by his embassy secretary, Njegus, played by Michael LaTour, who is also the Stage Director and Choreographer for this production! “Your Bigness,” “Your Vastness,” “Your Sageness,” and “Your Epicness,” he schmoozes.
The show is set in the 1920s which allows the women to be decked out in gorgeous sequined flapper dresses. Their gowns are simply gorgeous. Thank you, Kimberly G. Morris, for the eye candy in wardrobe design.
Pictured L-R: Allison Selby Cook, Brooklyn Snow, Erika Morrison, Katherine Weber
Other standouts are the petite but mighty soprano Alisa Suzanne Jordheim as the title character. She has the vocal chops to pull off this demanding role.
Just last week, I was privileged to see the “Rising Stars in Concert” at the Lyric Opera and praised the brilliant Ryan Opera Center which trains young artists. The Count was played ably by baritone Jesse Donner, and he is a recent graduate of that program from 2017. His voice was not only gorgeous, but his acting was playful as well.
The New Philharmonic was conducted by Music Director Kirk Muspratt. “Cookies with Kirk” follows the performance with the gleeful cast rushing first to the lobby for sweet treats. Wow. I don’t get dessert at the Lyric...maybe the suburbs aren’t so bad…
Mark your calendars: In the spring, there will be two concerts At the MAC on April 18 and 19 celebrating Frida Kahlo. Written by Mexican composers, the works feature a soprano soloist with tenor Jesse Donner singing and a 100-voice chorus. From June to August, there will be an “exclusive exhibit of Kahlo’s original artwork on loan from the Delores Olmedo Museum in Mexico City,” according to their press release. 26 pieces will be on display. It is the largest Frida Kahlo show in the Chicago area in 40 years.
Timed tickets for the art exhibit are only $18 plus fees. Call (630) 942-4000 for tickets. Only 30 untimed tickets are available each day of the exhibit.
And, there is ample FREE parking.
Catherine Hellmann is an Ohio transplant in love with the Windy City and all it has to offer...even if it involves traveling in the Chicagoland area. She has a daughter in the ‘burbs, another who goes to school in downtown Chicago, and her son lives in the college town of Ann Arbor.
Pictured: Katherine Weber and James Judd in Act II
Pictured: The cast of “The Merry Widow” in Act I
Alisa Jordheim (Soprano), Jesse Donner (Baritone), Katherine Weber (Soprano) and James Judd (Tenor) Star in Staging by Michael La Tour, Stage Director of New Philharmonic’s Sold-Out Operas, “Die Fledermaus (2019)
and “The Mikado” (2017)
New Philharmonic, under the musical direction of Maestro Kirk Muspratt, opens 2020 with Franz Lehár’s popular operetta “The Merry Widow,” featuring a libretto by Viktor Leon and Leo Stein, at the McAninch Arts Center. Due to the growing popularity of New Philharmonic’s winter operas a performance on Friday, Jan.24 at 7:30 p.m. has been added to the regular two performance run. Other performances are Saturday, Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 26 at 3 p.m. This operetta, staged by Michael La Tour, will be sung in English. A free MAC Chat will take place one hour prior to each performance.
“The Merry Widow” is based an 1861 comedy play, “L'attaché d'ambassade (The Embassy Attaché) by Henri Meilhac and revolves around a rich widow, and her countrymen's attempt to keep her money in the principality by finding her the right husband. New Philharmonic’s production will be set in the audacious, stylish, fun and madcap 1920s.
So many men, so little time. Hannah Glawari has all the money to save the bankrupt country of Pontevedro and all the eligible bachelors in Paris, but what she really wants is her long-lost love. Count Danilo, forbidden to wed Hannah when childhood sweethearts, has been charged with saving Pontevedro, but Hanna’s recent widow’s fortune has turned the tables. The most ravishing of operettas concludes with a party a la Café de Maxim’s complete with dancing girls.
“The Merry Widow” stars Alisa Suzanne Jordheim (soprano) as Hannah Glawari, Jesse Donner (baritone) as Count Danilo Danilovitch, Katherine Weber (soprano) as Valencienne and James Judd (tenor) as Camille de Rosillon; with Aaron Wardell (Baron Mirko Zeta), Evan Bravos (Vicomte Cascada), Matthew Greenblatt (Raoul de St. Brioche), Douglas Peters (Bogdanovitch), Brooklyn Snow (Sylviane), Reuben Lillie (Kromow), Allison Selby Cook (Olga), Ian Hosak (Pritschitsch), Erika Morrison (Praskovia), Lisa Kristina (Zo-Zo) and Stage Director La Tour in a cameo role as the clerk Njegus. They will be supported by a 20-person ensemble of chorus, grissettes and supers.
The design team includes Kimberly G. Morris (costume/wig/makeup design), Elias Morales (lighting design), and Jon Gantt (projections design). Stage manager is Isabelle Rund.
New Philharmonic, under the direction of Maestro Kirk Muspratt, presents “The Merry Widow” at the McAninch Arts Center, located on the campus of College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd., Friday, Jan. 24 and Saturday, Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 26 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $59. For tickets or more information, call 630.942.4000 or visit AtTheMAC.org.
Alisa Jordheim (Hannah Glawari) has been seen at the MAC in New Philharmonic’s 2017 and 2018 New Year’s programs, New Philharmonic 2017’s “The Best of Broadway: Rodgers & Hammerstein and Andrew Lloyd Webber” and in the role of Yum-Yum in the New Philharmonic’s 2017 production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” This past November she made her company debut as Clotilde in Pacini's “Maria, regina d'Inghilterra” with Odyssey Opera. Other performing credits include her acclaimed performance as Soeur Constance in Poulenc’s “Dialogues des Carmélites” at the
Caramoor International Music Festival, Gilda in “Rigoletto” with San Diego Opera, Ninetta in “La gazza ladra” with Teatro Nuovo and concert performances including Mozart's “Exsultate, jubilate” with the Milwaukee Symphony and Mozart's “Mass in C Minor” with the Bel Canto Chorus. Honors and awards include recipient of a 2016 Sullivan Foundation Award and 2015 Sullivan Foundation Career Development Grant, winner of the 2015 Bel Canto Regional Artists Competition, and winner of the Edith Newfield Scholarship in the 2013 Musicians Club of Women Music Scholarship Competition in Chicago. Jordheim was recently featured in Fred Plotkin's "40 under 40: A New Generation of Superb Opera Singers" on WQXR, New York's Public Radio station.
Jesse Donner (Count Danilo Danilovitch) was most recently seen at the MAC in New Philharmonic’s 2019 production of Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus.” His just performed the role of Danilo in the St. Petersburg Opera production of “The Merry Widow,” and his other performances this season include his debut as Rodolfo in Union Avenue Opera’s production of Puccini’s “La Boheme,” a return to the Louisville Orchestra as the tenor soloist in Verdi’s “Requiem” and Handel’s “Messiah” and his concert debut with the New Jersey Festival Orchestra. Previous seasons’ credits include Toledo Opera’s Fall Gala Concert, featured soloist for Chicago Philharmonic’s “Concert for Peace,” the role of Ismael in Union Avenue Opera’s production of Verdi’s “Nabucco” and the role of Emporer Alteum in Cedar Rapids Opera’s production of Puccini’s “Turandot.” Donner was a resident artist at Lyric Opera of Chicago from 2014-2017. Honors and awards include the 2015 Luminarts Fellowship and the Bel Canto grand prize, the 2014 George Shirley Award for Opera Performance, a special encouragement award from the 2014 Metropolitan Opera National Council Regional Auditions, and 1st place in the 2012 Michigan Friends of Opera Competition.
Katherine Weber (Valencienne) was seen earlier this season in New Philharmonic’s “Ode to Joy” concert. Other past performances with New Philharmonic include the roles of Rosalinde in Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus” (2019), and Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata” (2017). Weber garnered acclaim in the title role of Chicago Opera Theater’s 2018 Chicago premiere of Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta.” Other performing credits include soloist in Beethoven's “Mass in C,” Vivaldi's “Gloria” and Mozart’s “Requiem” with the Winona Oratorio Chorus and Orchestra and two seasons with Opera for the Young, in Madison, Wisc., where she toured in the title role in Dvořák’s “Rusalka” and Pamina in Mozart's “The Magic Flute.” She was featured soloist with the Florentine Opera and soprano soloist in Handel's “Messiah” at her alma mater, Viterbo University. Honors and awards include regional finalist at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions twice (2017, 2015), recipient of the Award of Excellence and the Lew Cady Memorial Award (both from Central City Opera), the Bain Fellowship from Indiana University, and two-time winner of the Schubert Club Competition and four time encouragement award winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
James Judd (Camille de Rosillon) was most recently seen at the MAC in the September “Ode to Joy” concert and in the role of Alfred in New Philharmonic’s January 2019 production of Strauss II’s “Die Fleidermaus.” He has sung with the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Western New York Chamber Orchestra, and The AIMS Festival Orchestra. Judd’s past operatic roles include Monostatos in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte,” Ferrando in Mozart’s “Così fan tutte,” the title role in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito,” Asgar in the U.S. premiere of Hajibeyov’s “Arshin Mal Alan” and Claude in the world premiere of Nettles' “The Fall of Stag Lee.” He has performed at the Rocky Ridge Music Center in Estes Park, Colo., where he won their prestigious concerto competition. Judd also sings with many professional choruses, including the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Judd holds a Master of Arts in Vocal Performance at The University of Iowa as well as Bachelor of Music in both Education and Vocal Performance from SUNY Fredonia.
Michael La Tour (Stage Direction/ Njegus) has worked professionally as an actor, singer, dancer, mime, clown, designer, choreographer, director and producer. He is on staff at The Ryan Opera Center of The Lyric Opera of Chicago as a master teacher and stage director (Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” Verdi’s “La Traviata, Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus,” Presgurvic’s “Romeo et Juliette”). His most recent work seen by MAC patrons was New Philharmonic’s 2017 sold out production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” Other directing credits include Kentucky Opera (Puccini’s “La Boheme,” Bizet’s “Carmen,” Presgurvic’s “Romeo et Juliette”) and Opera Moda (Mechem’s “Tartuffe,” Adamo’s “Little Women,” Hoiby’s“A Month in the Country”). With Peter Amster, he has co-directed and choreographed “Side By Side By Sondheim” for Pegasus Players, Hwang’s “M. Butterfly” for Apple Tree Theatre (After Dark Award for choreography) and the grand opening of The Harris Theater in Millennium Park.
Pictured Center: Alisa Jordheim surrounded by cast members Matthew Greenblatt, John Kouns, Danius Grablaukas, Reed Pence, William Ortega, Ben Adair, Matthew Byerly and Evan Bravos
About the MAC
The McAninch Arts Center (MAC) at College of DuPage is located 25 miles west of Chicago near I-88 and I-355. It houses three indoor performance spaces (the 780-seat proscenium Belushi Performance Hall; the 236-seat soft-thrust Playhouse Theatre; and the versatile black box Studio Theatre), the outdoor Lakeside Pavilion, plus the Cleve Carney Museum of Art and classrooms for the college’s academic programming. The MAC has presented theater, music, dance and visual art to more than 1.5 million people since its opening in 1986 and typically welcomes more than 100,000 patrons from the greater Chicago area to more than 230 performances each season.
The mission of the MAC is to foster enlightened educational and performance opportunities, which encourage artistic expression, establish a lasting relationship between people and art, and enrich the cultural vitality of the community. Visit AtTheMAC.org or facebook.com/AtTheMAC for more information.
Support for New Philharmonic is provided in part by Brookdale-Glen Ellyn; ST|G|P Sullivan Taylor | Gumina & Palmer, P.C., the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; WFMT 98.7 FM, WDCB 90.9 FM and the College of DuPage Foundation. This production of “The Merry Widow” is supported by an anonymous Soloist Sponsor.
Established as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charitable organization in 1967, the College of DuPage Foundation raises monetary and in-kind gifts to increase access to education and to enhance cultural opportunities for the surrounding community. For more information about the College of DuPage Foundation, visit foundation.cod.edu or call 630.942.2462.
Programs at the MAC are partially supported through a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.
Pictured in Act III: Foreground L-R: Erin Perry, Crystal Chandler. Lori Fimoff, Lisa Kristina, Molly Chesna, Kaitlin Tienen, Sara Solis; Background: Ben Adair, Reed Pence and Meghan Smeenge
New Philharmonic, under the musical direction of Maestro Kirk Muspratt, with staging by Michael La Tour, opens 2020 with Franz Lehár’s popular operetta “The Merry Widow,” libretto by Viktor Leon and Leo Stein, at the McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell Blvd.,Glen Ellyn, Ill. Performances are Friday, Jan. 24 and Saturday, Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 26 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $59. For tickets or more information, call 630.942.4000 or visit AtTheMAC.org.
All photos are by John Cebula Esq.