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MERRY WIDOW (article first published : 2005-12-23)

Artistic Director of Britain’s famed Carl Rosa Opera Company, Peter Mulloy, has announced the casting for the company’s long-awaited return to South Africa with the most beloved of all operettas, Franz Lehar’s joyous The Merry Widow.

It’s the heady champagne days of Paris 1912. Wealth and elegance meet sensuality and pleasure in the decadent dance halls of Maxims and the Moulin Rouge, where the rich and glamorous widow Hanna Glawari arrives to play her dangerous dating game, but will it be for love or money? With the unexpected arrival of her first love, Danilo, buried passions are re-ignited, firing a tempestuous test of love and past betrayal.

In the new production for South Africa specially created by Peter Mulloy, the company has pulled out all the stops to bring some of the UK’s most popular opera and theatre stars to perform in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The title role of Hanna Glawari, will be played by Jan Hartley. One of the West End’s most celebrated leading ladies, her many starring credits include Maria in West Side Story, Christine in The Phantom Of The Opera, Magnolia in Showboat, Wallis Simpson in Always and Charlotte Bronte in Bronte. Jan’s opera career includes Donna Anna in Don Giovanni at London’s Barbican and Cherubino in The Marriage Of Figaro at the Vienna Festival. She has received universal acclaim from the media from her role as Hanna on tour with the Carl Rosa Company.

“A life dedicated entirely to pleasure is jolly hard work,” proclaims the character of Count Danilo Danilovitch during the evening’s entertainment. And South African audiences should receive their own pleasure in the knowledge that the handsome actor/singer Karl Daymond will be appearing as Danilo. Karl’s illustrious career includes performing the role of Danilo with the RTE in Dublin, at the Cork Festival and more recently for the Minnesota Opera. He sung the role of Judd in Oklahoma for the BBC Proms and made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. The role of Valencienne will be played by Maeve Morris, who recently won audience acclaim for her portrayal of Yum-Yum in the Carl Rosa’s award-winning production of The Mikado. The comic role of Baron Zeta is in the hands of Britain’s Barry Clark, whose career has encompassed opera, operetta and oratorio, including Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly and the Learned Judge in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial By Jury for the Covent Garden Festival. Barry was also a principal singer with the original D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.

Amos Christie will be featured as Camille de Rosillon. Amos made his professional debut in 2003 at Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House and more recently sung with English National Opera in Cosi Fan Tutte. Lesley Cox, Carl Rosa Company’s Staff Director, plays Olga. Lesley recently returned from the Carl Rosa’s tours of Australia and New Zealand with HMS Pinafore and, as a co-director of Reckless Productions, presented Music Of Life at London’s Palace Theatre, directed by Simon Callow. The role of Prascowia will be played by Marilyn Cutts, who has made many West End musical appearances, including Oliver!, Godspell and La Cava. Marilyn also featured in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Alice In Wonderland and the Royal National Theatre’s Oklahoma!. While in repertory theatre work in Crewe, England, Marilyn met Dillie Keane and they later went on to form Fascinating Aida with Lizzie Richardson. She recently joined the famous group for the One Last Flutter tour, celebrating its 20 years existence.

Chris Johnston comes to South Africa to play the role of Njegus. Brilliant comedic actor Chris was assistant to Ray Cooney for the British Theatre of Comedy’s inaugural production, Run For Your Wife. During the show’s ten year West End run, Chris re-staged productions around the world as well as performing in the West End. He has just finished playing in the West End smash hit production of Don Carlos with Sir Derek Jacobi. Also included in the company travelling to South Africa with The Merry Widow are Mark Siney (Kromov), Jacqueline Tate (Sylviane), and Christopher Mulloy (Pritschitsch).

The orchestra of South African musicians will be conducted by Wyn Davies, Musical Director of both Carl Rosa Opera and New Zealand Opera. After graduating in music from Christ Church, Oxford, Wyn Davies became a repetiteur and Staff Conductor at Welsh National Opera. In his freelance career he has worked with most of the UK opera companies and performed his own edition of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera for Opera Northern Ireland. Wyn was for two years assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, New York. More recently he has conducted The Barber of Seville at Opera North, Rossini’s The Turk In Italy at the Buxton Festival, La Belle Helene for New Savoy Opera and The Mikado and Die Fledermaus for the Carl Rosa Company.

Peter Mulloy re-launched the venerable Carl Rosa Company in 1997. Peter has received the International Award for Best Director in Operetta for Pirates Of Penzance in San Francisco and Philadelphia and the Best Director Award at the Waterford Festival for Iolanthe. For the Buxton Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, Peter supervised the restoration of the original 1885 Savoy Mikado production costumes that were last used in the 1953 film The Gilbert And Sullivan Story. This lead to Peter being invited to research the original costume and setting designs for Mike Leigh’s film, Topsy-Turvy. The Oscar-winning sets and costumes can now be seen in Carl Rosa’s production of The Mikado. As Artistic Director of Carl Rosa, Peter has also recreated and directed Iolanthe, Die Fledermaus, The Pirates Of Penzance, The Mikado (with Eric Roberts) and HMS Pinafore.

Peter Mulloy’s Associate Director and Choreographer for The Merry Widow is Steve Elias, whose West End credits as a performer include The Pajama Game, The Goodbye Girl, Scrooge and most recently Mr Braithwaite in Stephen Daldry’s stage production of Billy Elliot.

The productions absolutely sumptuous sets and costumes are designed by one of the industry’s true current masters of design, Hugh Durrant. Hugh’s legendary career includes couture – Head of Design at Cojana, London and his own couture label in 1988 – and award-winning costume designs, including an Emmy Award for Best Costumes in September 2003 for the Cher Farewell Tour. Hugh’s set design credits include Lock Up Your Daughters in the West End and Fantasy at the Luxor in Las Vegas. He has designed 13 pantomimes for British producer Paul Elliott, two of which – Jack and The Beanstalk and Cinderella – have recently been seen on the Nelson Mandela Theatre stage of The Johannesburg Civic Theatre.

The Merry Widow has music by Franz Lehar, with original book and lyrics by Victor Leon and Leo Stein. The new English translation for Carl Rosa is by Jeremy Sams and the operetta is performed by arrangement with Glocken Verlag Limited, London.

Performances in South Africa are at Artscape Opera House in Cape Town from January 25 and the Nelson Mandela Theatre of The Johannesburg Civic Theatre from February 8. (The production is not coming to KwaZulu-Natal)

Tickets from R140 (exclusive of booking fee) are available from Computicket. Call 083 915 8000 or visit www.computicket.com Special discounts for groups of 10 or more are available from The Johannesburg Civic Theatre’s VIP Ticketing service on 011 877 6854.




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