Members of the cast of the Vancouver Opera production of The Merry Widow. Photo by John Grigaitis.
Members of the cast of the Vancouver Opera production of The Merry Widow. Photo by John Grigaitis.

The Vancouver Opera waltzes into its 2018-2019 season with Franz Lehár’s light-hearted Viennese operetta The Merry Widow. Aiming to charm audiences this October, it will also spotlight some rising stars of the opera world.

Something of a departure from many previous Vancouver Opera productions, it includes spoken dialogue. As a light operetta, the music will be sung in German with English surtitles, and the interspersed text will be performed in English to aid audiences in understanding the show’s plot and humour.

The story of The Merry Widow follows Hanna Glawari, a wealthy Pontevedrian widow, who seeks the reciprocal affections of the charming Count Danilo. As Hanna pursues the Count though, she encounters interference from some eager Parisians hoping to win the widow and thus the fortune for themselves. Questions of “who ends up with who?” and “what happens to the estate?” are answered in this amusing tale.

Featuring the talents of soprano Lucia Cesaroni alongside tenors John Cudia and John Tessier, under the direction of Kelly Robinson the production will also feature all four singing participants from the 2018-2019 Yulanda M. Faris Young Artist Program.

The nine-month program, which mentors emerging opera singers, collaborative pianists and stage directors, prepares young artists for work in the professional realm. Providing coaching, movement classes, artist development sessions, plus understudying and performance opportunities, the program also includes involvement in the current Vancouver Opera season.

Mezzo-soprano Gena van Oosten is one of four participants from the 2018-2019 Yulanda M. Faris Young Artist Program who will appear in The Merry Widow.
Mezzo-soprano Gena van Oosten is one of four participants from the Young Artist Program who will appear in The Merry Widow.

Among the emerging artists is Gena van Oosten, a young artist and mezzo-soprano from Ontario, who will portray the role of Praskowia in The Merry Widow. For van Oosten, the role may be small, but she says it’s a great way to ease into the program and to work professionally without the added pressure of a larger role.

As a child, van Oosten started singing only as a means of getting out of piano lessons. Now, she has completed a master’s degree in vocal performance at the University of Toronto and is a student of acclaimed mezzo-soprano Wendy Nielsen. When the opportunity to audition for the Young Artist Program came up, she jumped at the chance. She is glad she did.

“[The Young Artist Program] feels like a very safe environment to explore the type of artist I want to become,” she says.

Later in the Vancouver Opera season, van Oosten will understudy the roles of Siébel in Faust and Musetta in La Bohème, and is cast as one of the stepsisters in La Cenerentola.

Baritone Daniel Thielmann, is another University of Toronto graduate and another member of the Young Artist Program. Thielmann will play the role of Pritchitch in The Merry Widow,

For Thielmann, the program has been a great opportunity to gain experience working with multiple directors in a condensed period of time.

“Directors all have their different approaches for a similar goal of telling a story,” he says. “You have to be very adaptable, figuring out their language, and then how to incorporate yourself into that language. Then for the next show, be able to change it again, because you’re working with a different director. Or then to use all your previous knowledge from other directors as tools to further help you navigate the new director’s mission.”

Baritone Daniel Thielmann plays the role of Pritchitch in The Merry Widow.
Another of the Young Artist Program participants, baritone Daniel Thielmann plays the role of Pritchitch in The Merry Widow.

In addition to his role in The Merry Widow, Thielmann will also be involved in the upcoming Vancouver Opera season as understudy for Marcello in La Bohème, and featured on stage as Dandini in La Cenerentola.

With an exciting lineup ahead, both van Oosten and Thielmann are looking forward to opening the season with The Merry Widow, and agreed that there is something in this show for everyone.

“Audience members will be able to enjoy this show on a variety of different levels,” says Thielmann. “If you want just a very fun piece, this is a show for you. If you want to get a little more serious, and get into [the aspects of] how a woman can navigate the political and social norms of her time to get what she wants, this is also for you.”

In addition to the relevant storyline, van Oosten adds, “Every piece is an earworm. It is quite fun, addicting music. This is definitely one show that will leave you wanting to dance away.”

The Merry Widow plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (630 Hamilton St, Vancouver) October 20, 25, 27 & 28. Visit vancouveropera.ca for tickets and information.