Opera Wilmington opens this month with the launch of their first production
By CECE NUNN Photos by KELLY STARBUCK
An operetta seemed perfectly in tune with the goals of Opera Wilmington when its founders chose The Merry Widow for the new organization’s first production.
“I remember being in Austria, studying over there in the summer, and seeing an operetta,” said Nancy King, a soprano, UNCW professor and Opera Wilmington’s artistic director. “The audience was completely entranced, and I wanted that to start our company off. There’s something magical about that kind of music on a warm summer evening.”
Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow tells the story of a widow, of course, but one who has inherited an enormous amount of cash from her husband, so much that the leaders of the country where she lives fear bankruptcy for their nation were she to remarry and take her wealth elsewhere. Their bids to match her, with a man of their choosing, forms the basis of the operetta’s plot.
King, Nancy Carson and Mark D. Sorensen wrote the text, called a libretto, for Opera Wilmington’s version. While The Merry Widow is normally a three-act operetta, the story takes place during one evening in an embassy ballroom in the local version.
“It’s going to be a very elegant, funny, entertaining, charming evening of music,” said Sorensen, who in addition to designing costumes, is co-directing the opera. “There’s waltzing and the can-can done by professional dancers” to name a couple of the performance’s charms, he said.
The costumes and the art-nouveau-inspired set (designed by Max Lydy) have been created to work together for a dazzling atmosphere.
“The costumes are beautiful, turn-of-the-century gowns, a lot of silvers, greys and blues,” Sorensen said. “The sparkling of the costumes is supposed to match the sparkling of the music and the wit of the show.”
Opera Wilmington’s debut, conducted by Steven Errante, takes place at 8 p.m. July 25-26 and 3 p.m. July 27 on the Main Stage of the Cultural Arts Building at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. The venue is small, with only 295 seats, and organizers are hoping to fill all of those.
A champagne reception will be held at 6 p.m. July 25. Before that, Opera Wilmington is hosting a free, behind-the-scenes event on the main stage to give the community a chance to find out more about The Merry Widow by learning to waltz and singing some of the chorus parts, touring the set and costume shop and interacting with the cast and crew. More information about the first production and future endeavors is available at opera-wilmington.org.
Aiming for accessibility, the performance is in English and there is also some dialogue.
“It should be easy for anyone of all ages to come and enjoy,” Sorensen said. “It’s good for people who love opera and good for people who have not been exposed to opera on the stage before.”
Everyone involved in the show has a local connection, King said, and local sources of money and donated time are making the production possible.
“We’re amazed at the outpouring of financial and in-kind support from private citizens and local businesses,” King said. “I think it speaks completely to the fact that Wilmington is ready for an opera company. It was the right time and the right place for this to happen.”