The Merry Widow

at Lakeland Opera in 2009


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Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow holds some of the most beautiful musical and dramatic moments in the repertoire of light operatic theatre. It was the prospect of finding the balance within these four components – a classic operatic score, comedy, drama and fairy tale - that drew me towards this project. I wanted to explore how well each of the four elements could be characterised, how far they could be taken and eventually be tied into a flowing and cohesive story.

The fitting parallel between the story of The Merry Widow and the current national financial situation is of course, money and how valuable assets and services ought to be kept in the country rather than being sold off and therefore lost to foreign economies. This perhaps gives an added poignancy to Lakeland Opera’s choice and this production was certainly an attempt to invite the audience on a brief respite from the daily consequences of the recession felt by so many.

Lakeland Opera felt these consequences, too but good solutions were found to stay within the tight financial constraints. This is the first year, when we hired not only the costumes, but also the entire set rather than having original designs made for both. This meant that these two main components of a theatre production provided a fairly prescriptive structure from the onset, within which artistic ideas and concepts for staging, lighting and interpretation had to run. Add to that the choice of the distinctive English translation by Jeremy Sams and this structure quickly grew very solid foundations.

I tried to concentrate on the stories provided by the human relationships and in effect, it does not matter greatly what background is provided by set, costume, budget etc. The narrative and effects of human emotions will always stand up in theatre if questioned and taken seriously. This is helped by the music and libretto of The Merry Widow which were written by masters of their genre.

The cast consisted of professional singers Elizabeth Woods (Hannah), James Cleverton (Danilo), Catrine Kirkman (Valencienne) and Ben Kerslake (Camille) while the smaller roles were taken by members of the company and students. The commitment of the entire cast to explore these human stories had been exceptional. As Artistic Director to a professional/amateur opera company one needs to strike another balance by not only serving the piece and its interpretation, but also the members of the company - a task I very much relish at Lakeland Opera.

"Lakeland Opera is run by Yvonne Fontane, an artist blessed with forcible staging skills and raunchy acting gifts (which she demonstrated in her operatic debut, directing and singing the lead in a fabulous Carmen for Stowe Opera). Lakeland has followed up its own productions of Carmen and Cav & Pag with a thriving, large-cast The Merry Widow, colourful, flamboyant, good-looking and bursting with joie de vivre...Lakeland Opera has added welcome musical life to parts of Northumberland and Cumbria where theatre and fine art already flourish."

OPERA NOW, UK Opera Focus 2010, Roderick Dunnett

"Yvonne Fontane's exceptionally intelligent production, framed within the parameters of a sumptuously captivating hired set and costumes , maintained the necessary elegant facade behind which some less attractive 'goings on' take place! Wit, satire and irony were well to the fore though never overdone. Imaginative movement, gesture and use of stage space abounded. The quality of the dancing added further to the impact - not only that of the exhilarating and polished specialist group from her Academy choreographed and coached by Maxine Watters - but also that of the vocal chorus choreographed by Yvonne herself ..."
(Cumberland News, Brian Richardson) The Merry Widow, Lakeland Opera 2009

www.lakelandopera.org.uk

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"Fontane, a cultivated singer, vocalised with plenty of curdling chest-notes and a kind of untrammelled physical ardour...There was loads of atmosphere...The action was full of nuanced human relations, the principals a group of predatory animals circling with wary blood-lust, acutely alive to the possibility of prey..." (OPERA NOW)

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THE BRIDE OF DIONYSUS Pheadra

"Yvonne Fontane has a silvery pure voice, strong on clarity of diction yet imbued with humanity and with the ability to act with the voice." (CD of 'THE BRIDE OF DIONYSUS' Pheadra with the BBC Ulster Orchestra, Dutton Epoch, www.musicweb-international.com)

LE NOZZE DI FIGARO Stowe Opera La Contessa and Stage Director

"Her production of LE NOZZE DI FIGARO was just about faultless, too, perceptive, funny, sweet, touching, her Countess dramatically many layered and fitting comfortably in the voice."(OPERA NOW) "Figaro was a beautifully precise, profound piece of work" (OPERA NOW)