This being both the centennial of Franz Lehár’s “The Merry Widow” and the twenty-fifth-anniversary season of Light Opera Works, patrons might well have waltzed away with displeasure if the beloved Viennese operetta had not been presented in celebration. With its lilting waltzes, peppy mazurkas and memorable melodies, “The Merry Widow” is one of those works that is so guaranteed to please that companies often ham up the old gal unmercifully. Happily, with the exceptions of a single gag beaten to death and some inconsistent speaking accents, this is a “Widow” that reveals in sharp relief everything that makes this work the unparalleled masterpiece of its genre that it is. The title role, so often the property of haggard divas, is given over to a young, radiant soprano and Lyric Opera Center for American Artists success story, Stacey Tappan, who makes the familiar century-old melodies sound as fresh as ever. Thanks to the superb direction of new LOT artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller, we believe that the two couples that drive the plot are actually in love, a rarity in productions. No less impressive is Hogenmiller’s spirited choreography and Pasquale Laurino’s bouncy conducting which both capture the perfect spirit of this work. It was a huge risk and undertaking for LOW to commission Chicagoans Gregg Opelka and Jack Helbig to make a fresh translation when so many fine ones are available, but the snappy results justify the extravagance. (Dennis Polkow)
“The Merry Widow” plays at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson (at Sheridan), Evanston, (847)869-6300, through August 28.