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Reading Operatic Society - The Merry Widow

28th September to 2nd October 2004.

From Newbury Theatre.

This was the first time I’d seen either Reading Operatic Society or The Merry Widow, and to say I was impressed is an understatement. This was a vibrant, sparkling production, full of pace, wit and humour, with excellent acting and singing.

The extravagance of French diplomatic life around the turn of the 20th century was brought out in the set and the costumes, and the intrigues and extra-marital shenanigans belonged to the belle époque world of Feydeau.

Ian Whittaker was splendidly comic as the cuckolded ambassador, and it was easy to understand why Paul Evans as Camille fell for the sexy ambassador’s wife (Naomi Hinton). Keith Lawrence as Danilo and Maggie Marsh as Anna worked well together and made a convincing couple. Chris Bouchard, stepping in to the role of Njegus at very short notice, was a suitably bumbling factotum.

All credit to producer and choreographer Jill Morgan for getting such a committed performance from the whole cast. The orchestra, directed by John Lawes, was a little too loud at times, but the powerful voices of the singers were not to be outdone.

Lehar’s music was a delight, from the gentle, melodic Vilia to the can-can, and the lads’ rendition of Women! Women! Women! brought the house down. A very enjoyable evening.


From the Newbury Weekly News.

Pretty as a picture

Reading Operatic Society: The Merry Widow, at the Hexagon, from Tuesday, September 28 to Saturday, October 2

Operetta is the staple diet of many local amateur groups, allowing large choruses of mixed ages a chance to indulge in four-part harmony while giving the opportunity for individual talents to shine on the operatic stage.

The English model is best represented by Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy Operas, the European tradition being exemplified by the prolific Hungarian composer Franz Lehar whose biggest success, The Merry Widow, celebrates its centenary next year. Premiered in Vienna in 1905, its preponderance of 'melodies in waltz time' harks back to Johann Strauss whereas its French setting and inclusion of a can-can was foreshadowed by the joyous works of Offenbach.

Reading Operatic Society's production was well up to their usual high standard. A charming set, beautifully lit by Geoff Bamford, provided the backdrop for a rather slight story concerning the recently widowed Anna and the efforts of her countrymen to prevent her inherited wealth from disappearing by marriage to a foreigner.

Colourful costumes helped director Jill Morgan to establish some pretty stage pictures and, as the lyric of the opening chorus proclaimed, it was 'so nice to see familiar faces' both in principal roles and in the chorus.

Maggie Marsh was in fine voice as the merry widow of the title, toying with the affections of would-be suitors while reeling in an old flame in the shape of Danilo, whose penchant for flirting is expounded in the delightful You'll Find Me At Maxim's. Keith Lawrence played the ageing lothario with relish.

The sub-plot, such as it was, involved the ambassador, Baron Zeta, whose highly respectable wife Valencienne is trying, none too hard, to deflect the attentions of the French officer Camille. Naomi Hinton sang with a clarity of diction that we have come to expect. Paul Evans, although vocally sound, declined to attempt a gallic accent which somewhat weakened his portrayal.

lam Whittaker's Zeta was a comic delight, revelling in the role of the cuckolded husband oblivious to what is happening behind his back. Njegus, the doddery factotum, was in the capable hands of Barrie Theobald who made forgetfulness an art.

The orchestra, conducted by John Lawes, provided solid support, only occasionally overstepping the mark in terms of enabling the voices to be heard. Playing to their strengths, the society entertained a small but appreciative audience. A happy ending was never in doubt.