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Operetta: More Musical than Opera

Toronto Operetta Theatre to present ‘The Merry Widow’ during holiday season

By Madalina Hubert
Epoch Times Staff
Created: November 7, 2012 Last Updated: November 7, 2012
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Soprano Lucia Cesaroni (R) as Adele in the TOT’s 2010-2011 production of Johann Strauss’ operetta 'Die Fledermaus.' (Courtesy of Toronto Operetta Theatre)

Soprano Lucia Cesaroni (R) as Adele in the TOT’s 2010-2011 production of Johann Strauss’ operetta 'Die Fledermaus.' (Courtesy of Toronto Operetta Theatre)

You hear the word “operetta” and it almost sounds like a little opera. Perhaps a shorter version, perhaps less fancy.

Yet the operetta has little resemblance to opera, and, notwithstanding its name, is closer to music theatre, according to Guillermo Silva-Marin, general director of the Toronto Operetta Theatre (TOT).

“Operetta has always been a distinct departure from opera—it has dialogue, nobody dies in operetta, there is folklore, there is comedy, there is a romance,” explains Silva-Marin.

“Some of that exists in opera, but operetta is more on the effervescence of things, more on the fun of things, and so it was easy to call it operetta then (in the 19th century and early 20th century), and it’s easier to call it music theatre now.”

Those who enjoy more serious works tend to prefer the opera, while those who like light-hearted entertainment gravitate to the operetta and music theatre, says Henry Ingram, the TOT’s director of marketing and publicity.

As such, many fans of musicals, such as “My Fair Lady” and “South Pacific,” might also find that they enjoy a classic 19th century operetta such as “Die Fledermaus.”

“The operetta was the first Broadway musical, if you will. Works such as ‘The Merry Widow’ and ‘Die Fledermaus’ are essentially the same format of music as the Broadway musical—light-hearted stories, lots of romance, lots of fun, dancing, witty dialogue, great tunes that you can hum,” says Ingram.

“For instance, ‘Gigi’ by Lerner & Loewe is a Broadway musical in the form of an operetta but it was written specifically for the movies.”

Developed and popularized in the 19th century, the operetta gradually evolved into music theatre in the 1920s and 1930s.

“One of the most classic operettas of the new era is ‘My Fair Lady.’ ‘My Fair Lady’ is a phenomenal operetta but it’s not called an operetta, it’s called music theatre,” says Silva-Marin.

“We should call ourselves The Toronto Music Theatre Company,” he adds, laughing.

‘Canada’s lyric leader’

Now in its 29th season, the TOT describes itself as “Canada’s lyric leader.” Since its debut in 1985, the theatre has set out to produce works of classical operetta, zarzuela, light opera and music theatre. Some of its most recognizable productions include Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus” as well as Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” and “The Pirates of Penzance.”

Soprano Elizabeth Beeler (L) as Anna Glawari and baritone Theodore Baerg (R) as Danilo in the TOT’s 2007 production of 'The Merry Widow.' (Courtesy of Toronto Operetta Theatre)

Soprano Elizabeth Beeler (L) as Anna Glawari and baritone Theodore Baerg (R) as Danilo in the TOT’s 2007 production of 'The Merry Widow.' (Courtesy of Toronto Operetta Theatre)

The TOT opened its 2012-13 season with “Italianissimo,” a concert tribute to Italy, and the songs that it inspired. During the holiday season, the company will present Franz Lehár’s “The Merry Widow,” another popular operetta, which it hopes will attract a wide range of audience members.

The company will conclude the season in April with a lesser-known piece by French composer Jacques Offenbach, called “La Vie Parisienne,” which focuses on the Parisian night life. Offenbach is of course best known for his famous rendition of the cancan dance.

“If [people] like light-hearted, engaging, entertaining music in a theatrical format, they should come” to the TOT, says Ingram.

Music trends

In terms of contemporary musicals, Silva-Marin is not sure in what direction music theatre is going to evolve, although pop seems to be the most obvious trend.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen within the next 20-30 years. Because when ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ came, it was like music theatre, it was like an operetta, but it was like an opera as well and so you sort of say, ‘Where are we going with this?’ Because it’s called ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ but it’s not an opera. You can’t say it was an opera, and you can’t say that it was an operetta, and obviously it’s not pop,” he says.

“We’ll see what happens with the trends. Ultimately it’s what the public wants.”

For more information about the Toronto Operetta Company, please visit www.torontooperetta.com

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