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Kris Kerzman, Variety Contributor, Published October 22 2013

F-M Opera marks transitional 45th season with ‘Merry Widow’

"The Merry Widow" represents a transitional moment in opera. The operetta (a lighter, shorter opera) was a huge success when it debuted in Vienna in 1905, and it built onto that success through an English translation that allowed it to take stages in London and Manhattan by storm. In the process, “The Merry Widow” became something of a precursor to modern musical theater.

Fargo-Moorhead Opera Executive Director David Hamilton said this weekend’s production of the operetta provides “a good balance” to the rest of the company’s season, but its place in opera also provides a good metaphor. The Opera is currently undergoing its own transition, stretching its wings with newer material and expanding into new programs. Included in this effort was the Opera’s recent collaboration with Plains Art Museum to present an operatic interpretation of the novel “Moby-Dick” and will continue through next spring’s world premiere of two pieces commissioned by the American Lyric Theatre in New York City.

“We’re looking to move this company into more prominence nationally, and to do that we can’t keep doing the same 20 operas over and over again and expect things to grow. Of course, we’ll keep doing the big, standard works, but we also want to move into more cutting-edge work, and I think Fargo audiences are interested in that,” Hamilton said.Hamilton also cites the opera’s new Young Artist Program, which will offer development for young singers while having them perform for schools and community groups, as a sign of new things to come from their organization.

Stella Zambalis, an audience favorite who has sung with the Opera five other times, will sing the soprano role of Hanna Glawari in “The Merry Widow,” an opportunity for a lighter role she calls “fun, interesting, and challenging.” By virtue of her long career in singing with operas across the country, she said she understands the value of a company reinvigorating itself to find new audiences.

“I think all performing arts, not just opera, were dealt a huge blow with the failing economy in 2008,” she said. She applauded the Opera’s addition of the Young Artist’s Program as an example of how successful companies are managing to grow in spite of economic woes. She said it will help the Opera reach new audiences while also allowing them to audition exceptional talent. Zambalis teaches voice at the Patel Conservatory in Tampa, Fla., and said three of her students are auditioning to be part of the program.

“Look out for my students,” she said with a laugh.

Gennard Lombardozzi is also returning for a stint with the F-M Opera and will sing the tenor role of Camille in “The Merry Widow.” Lombardozzi, now based in New York City, is a 2002 graduate of Concordia College and was once a student of Hamilton’s. He said he’s noticed a lot of positive changes made in Fargo-Moorhead in the time since he left and that a growing and evolving opera company is something these audiences deserve.

“(F-M Opera’s success) has a lot to do with David and his board. They bring in great artists and they’ve done a good job with building the opera. They’re doing something right. There aren’t many places this size that are growing,” he said.

Aside from whatever it may signal for the future of the F-M Opera, Hamilton said the “The Merry Widow” simply makes for a fun evening at the opera. Its “will-they-won’t-they” love story and beautiful duets have been captivating audiences since sweeping Europe and the United States back in the 1900s.

“The story is fun and it’s frothy,” he said, “it’s a comedy, the champagne flows, and we have can-can girls. The music goes from one great tune to the next.”

If You Go

WHAT: “The Merry Widow” presented by the Fargo-Moorhead Opera

WHEN: Friday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.

where: Festival Concert Hall, North Dakota State University

tickets: $7.50 to $75

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo, and its online publication, ARTSpulse. More more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net/artspulse