|The Washington High School band room is glowing with energy on a cold Iowa night. Talented performers of all ages gather in groups around the room, taking a five minute break from rehearsal of The Merry Widow, a Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre production showing January 13 & 15 at Theatre Cedar Rapids. I’m here to observe and learn more about all that goes into an opera production. |
Upon my arrival I catch a glimpse into the festive operetta composed by Franz Lehar. An operetta is a genre of light opera, both in terms of music and subject matter, and is closely related to musical theatre. The Merry Widow, a story of a rich widow and her countrymen’s attempt to keep her money in the community by finding her the “right” husband, falls perfectly into this category. The scene is Act III, set in a burlesque house: the beautiful cancan girls are dancing a vibrant and colorful performance. While watching, I learn that all staging and choreography was taught in only five days!
One of only two professional operas in Iowa, the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre’s talent is impressive. The Merry Widow’s principal cast boasts talent from around the nation. Laura Perdersen, a New York-based, nationally acclaimed lyric soprano (and Iowa native!), plays the wealthy widow Hanna Glawari. Austin Kness, a Cedar Rapids native who recently completed his tenure as an Alder Fellow with the world-renowned San Francisco Opera, plays Count Danilo Danilovitsch (First Secretary of the embassy and Hanna's former lover). John Muriello, Assistant Professor of Voice with the University of Iowa, plays Baron Mirko Zeta (the Ambassador). Mr. Muriello has concertized in London at The Wigmore Hall and in Moscow at the Moscow Conservatory. Alicia Berneche , who has appeared on many prominent stages including the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Portland Opera, plays Baron Zeta's wife, Valencienne.
Talent from the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre’s own Young Artist Program, as well as students from Washington and Xavier High Schools, help round out the cast. Some of the young artists are local, however, most are from around the Midwest, either as undergrads, grad students, or post-graduate emerging professionals. This opportunity provides exposure for aspiring young artists, as well as the experience of performing with and learning from seasoned professionals.
Led by noted opera director and singer, Marciem Bazell, the cast comes together to rehearse part of the Finale and Act I. Commanding voices and playful waltz bring the story to life. I can only imagine how rich the sound will be once complimented by musicians from Orchestra Iowa, who will serve as the opera orchestra. The orchestra will be conducted by Daniel Kleinknecht, who is also the founder and executive director of the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre.
Lead principal Laura Pedersen best summarizes The Merry Widow: “It’s in English, it’s fun, there is dancing and no one dies!”
The Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre provides an adventurous repertoire with a wide range of opera from historic works to contemporary American works. An opera production is by far one of the most expensive arts endeavors, limiting the number of productions in the opera season. Be sure to take advantage of this rare and unique opportunity to enjoy culture at its finest in your community!
--Jessica Johnson, ICCA Executive Director