Although I had seen the Metropolitan Opera’s energetic new production of Franz Lehar’s THE MERRY WIDOW in its Live-in-HD series in movie theaters last year, I could not bypass the chance to see the same production live onstage this past weekend at the Lyric in Chicago.
Instead of Renee Fleming and Nathan Gunn, this time we had a more age-appropriate Nicole Cabell as the wealthy young widow, and Thomas Hampson as her reluctant lover. It’s hard for me to decide who’s better, Gunn or Hampson, having been a big fan of both for a long time. But, comparing the two in the same role in the same production, I think Hampson was perhaps having more fun with the part. The real winner, however, is Susan Stroman’s refreshingly innovative direction and choreography. She brings Broadway glitz and pizazz to this beloved operetta, and everything old is suddenly new and young and vibrant again.
Just as a side note, in the Metropolitan Opera production (now available on DVD and Blu-Ray), the non-singing comedic part of Njegus was played by University of Kansas graduate Carson Elrod, who stole every scene he was in with his rubbery face, his pitch-perfect line delivery, his clown-like agility. In Chicago, the part was played by Jeff Dumas, who seemed to be channeling the fey and mincing spirit of Truman Capote. Funny, yes, but the caricature was also vaguely disconcerting.
Finally, I must admit that I was a bit apprehensive about this past weekend in Chicago. The last time I was in the Windy City was in March of 2014, with Grant Goodman, my friend and colleague for nearly 50 years. We saw three operas at the Lyric on that trip, and also two concerts. It was a wonderfully memorable trip, but Grant died unexpectedly a month after we returned to Lawrence. I was afraid that, this time, without Grant, Chicago would be sad. It also rained the whole time I was there.
In life, Grant Goodman took good care of me, always looking after my well-being. In death, he continues to do so. I think he would have been as disappointed as I was by BEL CANTO Saturday night, as rejuvenated as I was by THE MERRY WIDOW Sunday afternoon. When I was sipping my complimentary glass of Proseco by the fireplace in the lobby of the tony Allegro Hotel yesterday evening before dinner, watching the bartender and all the subsequent uniformed waiters dancing in attendance around me, I could hear Grant guffawing because I was playing the part of “the merry widow(er)” in his absence, at his expense.
Here’s to you, Grant. Thanks for all the memories. Long may your archetypal laughter and joie de vivre remain in my collective unconscious!