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John Lamb, Published October 26 2013

Review: ‘Merry Widow’ a kick for opera fans

If you go

What: Fargo-Moorhead Opera’s “The Merry Widow”

When: Show at 2 p.m. Sunday; Pre-show talk at 1:30 p.m.

Where: Festival Concert Hall, North Dakota State University

Info: Tickets from $7.50 to $75. www.fmopera.org

FARGO – The Fargo-Moorhead Opera season opened Friday night with songs, dances and laughs as “The Merry Widow” kicked across the stage at Festival Concert Hall.

As a crowd was informed in a pre-show discussion, Franz Lehar’s operetta is one of those joyous works in which no one dies. In fact, the only violence is comically directed at the buffoonish men trying to woo the multi-millionaire title character.

Seemingly no man is a match for the feisty character and Stella Zambalis nails the part, with flirty assuredness. The soprano’s take on the folk story of Vilja at the opening of the second act is nearly a show-stopper and her definition of wedded bliss “in the Parisian style,” is a charming case for an open marriage.

The comedy comes easily throughout the play, though Andrew Alness steals most of the laughs. The Concordia junior plays Njegus, the lowly clerk who knows what’s really going on, with the broad and creaky delivery of a Monty Python character.

The comedy is surprisingly physical, sometimes even slapstick, and for the most part works well. A few jokes, however, get repeated too many times and by the third act, you wonder if they could be cut to tighten up a performance that runs over two hours – not including a 25-minute intermission.

Still, it’s fun to see FM Opera regulars like tenor David Hamilton as the playboy Count Danilo and baritone Peter Halverson as the befuddled ambassador playing for laughs while still showcasing their rich voices. Hamilton also shows admirable endurance singing in a male can-can line during one of the show’s highlights.

Similarly, as Valencienne, Holly Janz shows her kicks with the grisettes. The mezzo-soprano shines best when flirting with Camille, played with admirable comic chops by Gennard Lombardozzi.

Of course, everything works out in the end in a way that seems too convenient, even for an opera. But you have to set aside reality to enjoy a song-and-dance show, and for that, “The Merry Widow” hits the mark.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533