The makebelieve world of operetta first flourished during the French Second Empire and was interrupted by the Gallic defeat in the Franco-Prussian War; afterwards it recovered but again World War I put an end to it. The Pax Britannica of the Victorian Age engendered the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan (they called them “operas”). And the Austro-Hungarian Empire had a bright light in Johann Strauss II during the late Nineteenth Century but there were others: Von Suppé, Zeller, Millöcker. Later on, two Hungarians led the field: Emmerich (Imre) Kálmán with such pieces as “The Princess of the Czardas”, and particularly Franz (Ferenc) Lehár whose most famous operetta was “The Merry Widow” (“Die lustige Witwe”).
I am sorry that the Colón chose “The Merry Widow” to finish its season, not that I don´t like it (far from it) but because it was very decently offered just last year by Juventus Lyrica and also due to the fact that the memory is still fresh of the splendid version offered by the Colón in 2001 with Frederica Von Stade, Thomas Allen and Paul Groves, conducted by Julius Rudel and with production by Lotfi Mansouri. In fact it was the first time that a Viennese operetta was offered here in German, as it should be; and if anyone doubts this, let him think about “La Verbena de la Paloma” done in that language! For knowledgeable people, it´s just as shocking and inappropriate. Fortunately the present version was indeed in German, both in the spoken and sung parts. As I recently wrote about Joh. Strauss II´s “Die Fledermaus”, it´s certainly hard for non-German speakers to enact their roles idiomatically, but if they master the problem the results are enormously enhanced; so much so, that a bilingual version becomes intolerable.
I believe that the chance was missed to present such Lehár hits as “The Count of Luxemburg” (“Der Graf von Luxemburg”) and especially “The Land of Smiles” (“Das Land des Lächelns”), whose Prince Sou-Chong was Richard Tauber´s most famous role (he was the finest singer of the Lehár repertoire). Or Joh. Strauss II´s “The Gypsy Baron” (“Der Zigeunerbaron”). And one of Offenbach´s best operettas, such as “Orphée aux enfers”. It would be audacious but worthwhile to bring over a specialised cast and do Sullivan´s “The Mikado”. All would be “firsts” at the Colón even if they are very famous in
The best point about this revival was the re-use of the “art nouveau” stage designs of Michael Yeargan, very handsome and functional; at least the Colón didn´t spend on new designs. On the other hand, the costumes by Mini Zuccheri were generally agreeable and in style. Good lighting by Roberto Traferri. The production by Candace Evans (debut) had some lapses of taste, such as the scene of the “grisettes”, but she followed the fluffy plot well, although the “trendy interventions” on the original text by Viktor León and Leo Stein (uncredited but of apparent “porteño” vintage) to my mind are counterproductive to the Belle Époque Parisian mood (such as a reference to Messi, of course wildly applauded). The choreography by Rodolfo Lastra was generally well done (excepting the “grisettes”). The long ballet at the beginning of the Third Act, sometimes cut, was welcome, for otherwise the act would be too short.
On the musical side the best thing was the light, lilting pace obtained by conductor Gregor Bühl (debut), which shows his versatility for he has conducted a lot of Wagner. The Choir under Peter Burian was pleasant enough. I was very disappointed by Norwegian soprano Solveig Kringelborn, who used to have a nice lyrical voice, now strident and often unacceptable; although she moved well, you need vocal allure for “Vilya” or the famous waltz, and this was absent. Lyuba Petrova as Valencienne showed a small but accurate voice and acted with some charm. Baritone Mathias Hausmann (debut) has profited from his experience at the Viennese Volksoper; he sings with a serviceable voice but adds much style, and he moves elegantly, though some prefer more “devilish” Danilos. Though not a match for Paul Groves, tenor Benjamin Bruns (debut) sang a creditable Camille with firm highs (he and Petrova did the rarely included duet “Zauber der Häuslichkeit”).
Reinhard Dorn´s voice is rather worn but Baron Zeta speaks more than he sings and Dorn´s acting was very good. Evans exaggerated the rivalry of Viscount Cascada (the firm-voiced Norberto Marcos, who had to cope with many additions in Spanish of doubtful relevance) and St Brioche (tenor Carlos Ullán with diminished means and white hair). The Njegus, a sort of messenger for Ambassador Zeta of Pontevedro (the thinly disguised Montenegro), was marked by Evans with a grotesque body language endured by Gustavo Zahnstecher, who sang with humor a little ditty generally cut (this was a very full edition of the operetta). I was astonished that the normally good Marisa Pavón did such a gross parody of a grisette in her Zozo. Parody is alright in the spoken role of the old cocotte Praskovia, funnily done by Rosmarie Klingenhagen. Others in the cast were in the picture: Ernesto Bauer, Natalia Lemercier, Alejandro Meerapfel, Oriana Favaro, Leonardo Estévez and Ariel Ramos. Good dancing from the Colón Ballet with such solo artists as Maricel De Mitri and Edgardo Trabalón. There was a second cast (changing the five main parts) which I didn´t hear.