This weekend, the Northern Lights Music Festival presents a production of Franz Lehar's operetta 'The Merry Widow'. Classical MPR's Julie Amacher got the chance to talk with the Festival's Music Director, Gavriel Heine, earlier this week — their conversation is below.
Also, make sure to join Julie as she gives a pre-concert talk one hour before the performances on Sunday, July 12 at Chisholm High School (performance begins at 3:00pm) and on Monday, July 13 at Washington Auditorium in Ely (performance begins at 7:00pm).
• Who is Gavriel Heine?
"I'm a resident conductor at the Mariinsky Theater, which used to be known as the Kirov Theater back in the Soviet days but they changed it back. So, resident conductor there, opera, ballet, symphonic concerts. I'm there about 10 months out of the year."
• What makes Merry Widow different?
"I don't generally conduct works of what we'd call the light genre of operettas or musicals. Merry Widow, of course, is different. It's Viennese music and it has great classical roots and wonderful Viennese style and charm."
• What made you choose to perform in English and Serbian?
"We are doing it all in English and in Serbian because [in] the story of the Merry Widow, we've changed it back to the Montenegrian Embassy in Paris so we've peppered it with Serbian to give it more of a local flavor."
• Why do The Merry Widow this season?
"I think it was a great choice to do Merry Widow this year. In 2011, we did Gianni Schicchi then the next year we went to I Pagliacci... then La Boheme, then Carmen last year. So we've been sort of working out, muscle wise, with our audience. After going heavy, heavy, heavy we decided to go light this year with Merry Widow. I think it's a wonderful choice and I'm very happy we're doing it."
• What makes opera on the Iron Range so special?
"The impression I get is that people just don't see opera. They don't go every week to the opera — there's not an opera up here to go to every week. So the experiences maybe are more limited which means perhaps the audience is more open."
• What makes Iron Range audiences great?
"So you do something and if you're doing something that's really good, this audience is going to react. And I think that most of the time when we do something — even a hit like Carmen or Boheme — I think we're doing it for people live for the first time. So it's really special and it's also a huge responsibility. Because the time when you do something for somebody the first time, you better get it right or they might not want to come back. So we're conscious of that. We're always doing our best for everybody up here."
• Why people should see this production?
"It's got loads of character, loads of humor. The chorus is fabulous, our cast is out of the park wonderful, the orchestra is doing tremendously. So the music is a whole rainbow of emotions and it's something you really have to hear and see to feel. So I hope everybody can get out and experience this really great piece, The Merry Widow."
• Tell us about the gorgeous costumes.
"The costuming is out of this world. I think these are the greatest costumes we've had. We've hired them from Utah Opera and they are stunning. The hair! We've got this sort of Edwardian look going on with everybody's hair. It's a really great looking show. We hope it sounds great and I can tell you it definitely looks great."
The Montenegrin embassy in Paris is holding a ball to celebrate the birthday of its sovereign, the Grand Duke. Hanna Glawari, who has inherited twenty million francs from her late husband, is to be a guest at the ball and Baron Zeta, the ambassador, wants to ensure that she will marry another Montenegrin, thereby keeping her fortune in the country and saving it from bankruptcy.
Baron Zeta has in mind Count Danilo Danilovich, the First Secretary of the embassy, but his plans are not going well. Danilo has not yet arrived at the party, so Zeta sends Njegus, the embassy secretary, to fetch him from Maxim's.
Danilo finally arrives and meets Hanna. It emerges they were once in love prior her marriage, but his uncle put an end to their romance because Hanna had absolutely nothing to her name. Although they still love each other, Danilo refuses to court Hanna because of her fortune, and Hanna vows she will not marry him until he says "I love you".
Meanwhile, Baron Zeta's wife Valencienne has been flirting with the French attache to the embassy, Count Camille de Rosillon, who writes "I love you" on her fan. Valencienne puts off Camille's advances, saying that she is a "respectable wife."
The incriminating fan becomes lost and is found by embassy counsellor Kromow, who jealously fears the fan belongs to his wife, Olga, and gives it to Baron Zeta. Not recognizing Valencienne's fan, Baron Zeta decides to return the fan to Olga, in spite of Valencienne's desperate offers to take the fan and return it herself.
On his way to see Olga, the Baron meets Danilo, and his diplomatic mission takes precedence over the fan. The Baron orders Danilo to marry Hanna. Refusing to accede to the Baron's demand, Danilo offers to eliminate any non-Montenegrin suitors as a compromise.
The "Ladies' Choice" dance is about to start, and all the men hover around Hanna, hoping to be her choice of partner. Valencienne hatches an idea to get Camille to marry Hanna so that he will cease to be a temptation for her, and therefore volunteers Camille as a partner for Hanna in her "Ladies' Choice" dance. Danilo goes to the ballroom to round up some of the other ladies to claim dances with the hopeful suitors of Hanna.
Even after the ladies have made their choices, there are still some suitors left behind. Hanna chooses the one man who is apparently not interested in dancing with her — Danilo. Danilo refuses to dance with her, but offers his dance with Hanna for ten thousand francs, with the proceeds to going to charity. The would-be suitors decline, and after they leave, Danilo attempts to dance with Hanna. Annoyed with his behavior, she refuses to dance with him. Danilo begins to waltz by himself, eventually wearing down Hanna's resistance, and she falls into his arms.
The next evening, everyone is dressed in Montenegrin clothing, at a party in the garden at Hanna's house, to celebrate the birthday of the Grand Duke in Pontevedrian fashion. Hanna entertains by singing an old folk song, "Vilja."
Meanwhile, Baron Zeta fears that Camille is a threat to his plan for Hanna to marry a Montenegrin. Still not recognizing the fan as Valencienne's, the Baron orders Danilo to find out the identity of its owner, whom he assumes to be Camille's married lover.
A meeting is arranged for later in the garden between Zeta, Danilo and Njegus, to discuss the identity of the owner of the fan and also the problem with regard to the Hanna's future marriage. Hanna sees the fan, and thinks the message on it is Danilo's declaration of love for her, which he denies. Danilo's inquiries about the identity of the owner of the fan result in revelations of the details of the infidelities of some of the wives of Embassy personnel, but do not reveal the identity of the owner of the fan.
That evening, Camille and Valencienne meet in the garden. Valencienne continues to resist Camille's advances, declaring that they must part. Camille begs for a keepsake, and discovers the fan, which Danilo had accidentally left behind. Camille begs Valencienne to let him keep the fan as the keepsake, and Valencienne agrees, after writing "I'm a highly respectable wife" on the fan.
Camille persuades Valencienne to enter the same pavilion — in which Danilo, the Baron and Njegus had arranged to meet — so that they can say their goodbyes in private. Njegus, who arrives first for the meeting, discovers that Camille is in the pavilion with Valencienne. Njegus locks the door to the pavilion when Danilo and Baron Zeta arrive, and delays their entry to the pavilion. The Baron peeps through the keyhole to see what lovers may be inside and is upset when he recognizes his own wife.
Njegus arranges with Hanna to change places with Valencienne. Camille leaves the pavilion followed by Hanna, confounding the Baron when they appear. Hanna announces that she is to marry Camille, leaving the Baron distraught at the thought of losing the Pontevedrian millions and Valencienne distraught at losing Camille.
Danilo is furious and tells the story of a Princess who cheated on her Prince and then storms off to seek the distractions at Maxim's. Hanna realizes that his anger at the announcement of her engagement shows that Danilo loves her and rejoices among the general despair.
The final act is set the ballroom of Hanna's house, which she has decorated as Maxim's, complete with Maxim's grisettes (can-can dancers). Valencienne, who has dressed herself as a grisette, entertains the guests.
When Danilo arrives, having found the real Maxim's empty, he tells Hanna to give up Camille for the sake of the country. Much to Danilo's delight, Hanna tells him that she was never engaged to Camille, but that she was protecting the reputation of a married woman. Danilo is ready to declare his love for Hanna, and is on the point of doing so when he remembers her money, and stops himself.
When Njegus produces the fan, which he had picked up earlier, Baron Zeta suddenly remembers that the fan belongs to Valencienne. Baron Zeta swears to divorce his wife and marry the widow himself, but Hanna tells him that she loses her fortune if she remarries. Hearing this, Danilo confesses his love for her and asks Hanna to marry him, and Hanna triumphantly points out that she will lose her fortune only because it will become the property of her husband.
Valencienne takes the fan and assures Baron Zeta of her fidelity by reading out what she had replied to Camille's declaration: "I'm a respectable wife." All ends happily as the curtain falls.