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Last modified: Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Broadway meets opera in IU Opera's 'The Most Happy Fella'

Final stage performance by Distinguished Professor Timothy Noble

WHAT: The Most Happy Fella, presented by IU Opera Theater
WHEN: April 10-11, 17-18
WHERE: IU Bloomington's Musical Arts Center
TICKETS: Tickets for the April 10 show, which is general admission, are $25 ($12 for students). Tickets for all other performances are $15-$35 ($10-$20 for students). The Musical Arts Center box office hours are Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Get ticket information online at, or call the Musical Arts Center at 812-855-7433.

March 25, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Most Happy Fella has been called musical theater, an operetta and a good old-fashioned opera. When it debuted in 1956, The New York Daily Mirror called it "a masterpiece of our era."

Most Happy Fella

A photo from the 1982 IU Opera Theater production of "The Most Happy Fella"

No matter how audiences choose to classify Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella, opening April 10 at Indiana University's Musical Arts Center, opera and musical theater fans alike will love the soaring musical scores, rich vocals and subtle humor inherent in this feel-good show, presented by IU Opera Theater.

Sung in English with English supertitles, this production is conducted by Constantine Kitsopoulos and directed by Vincent Liotta with scenic design by William Forrester, costumes by Linda Pisano and lighting by Michael Schwandt. Joshua Bergasse is the choreographer.

Appearing in the April 10 and April 18 productions as lead Tony Esposito is internationally renowned baritone Timothy Noble, a Distinguished Professor of Music at IU's Jacobs School of Music and a Jacobs alumnus. Following a renowned career on prominent stages around the world, this will be Noble's final set of performances within a production.

Noble's international opera career has included leading roles at major opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Chicago Lyric Opera, Canadian Opera in Toronto, Opera Montreal, the Glyndebourne Festival, La Fenice in Venice and the Netherlands Opera. He has performed with the orchestras of London (Philharmonic), Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, and he has appeared at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and the Ravinia Festival.

"This piece wants to be an opera at times. Other times it wants to be a Broadway show and sometimes it just wants to be a drama," said Noble of Happy Fella. He returned to the Jacobs School as a professor 10 years ago after his distinguished opera career. "This is a show that I have always wanted to do, and it will be a fitting end to my stage career."

The show is perfect for Noble, who said people talk about him doing "crossover" music (though in his case, unlike most, he crossed over from an early Broadway and pop career to opera). "I came to Indiana University in 1977 and saw my first opera, Tosca. Opera was not anything I had ever thought about doing -- I was 32 when I got here -- but my great teacher, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, encouraged me to try opera, and this resulted in a new, 28-year journey."

Like any good musical comedy, The Most Happy Fella begins with love at first sight -- at least on the part of Tony, who falls in love with a young waitress, Rosabella, during a trip to San Francisco. They begin a correspondence (by mail -- the show is set in 1927), but Rosabella doesn't remember Tony and asks for his picture. Instead of sending his own photo, Tony sends a picture of Joe, the young, handsome ranch hand at Tony's Napa Valley vineyard. Misunderstandings, mistakes and events both bittersweet and amusing unfold until the show's happy conclusion.

Loesser's libretto is based on Sidney Howard's 1924 play They Knew What They Wanted. After Fella first premiered at Imperial Theatre on Broadway, Time magazine wrote a review about what was Loesser's first Broadway show since his wildly successful Guys and Dolls in 1950: "In style more like an opera than a straight Broadway show, it achieves opera's invariable prime aim: its music stands splendidly foremost. In Broadway terms, The Most Happy Fella boasts an exuberantly rich and varied score that ranges from perky show tunes and bright snatches flung over the shoulder to full-throated romantic duets and choruses that flood the theater," the magazine wrote.

The story is as relevant as ever today, with Internet dating making misrepresentation of oneself almost the norm on the modern dating scene and many couples getting to know one another virtually first, in person later.

A 2006 New York Times review said, "Frank Loesser's music for The Most Happy Fella is more complex, varied and inventive than the scores of quite a few 20th-century works that proudly call themselves operas . . . How many musicals have both the streetwise Broadway classic for male quartet, 'Standing on the Corner,' as well as the complex operatically tinged 'How Beautiful the Days,' which evolves subtly from duet to trio to quartet?"

Other featured songs include the comical "Ooh! My Feet," a waitress's lament, "Happy to Make Your Acquaintance," "The Most Happy Fella," "Somebody, Somewhere" and "Young People."

Happy Fella is a fittingly upbeat conclusion to a year of good news and honors for the Jacobs School. In addition to other positive developments, the Jacobs School celebrated the 50th anniversary of IU Ballet Theater's The Nutcracker; saw numerous faculty and students win awards (including a Chevalier in France's National Order of the Legion of Honor for Violette Verdy, a Distinguished Professor of Ballet); announced construction of a new, $44-million music building; and was the appreciative recipient of a munificent gift of late composer Leonard Bernstein's entire Connecticut studio.

Aside from Noble, the show's two casts are entirely composed of some of the Jacobs School's most talented students. "It's going to be a terrific show," said Noble. "The casts are both terrific . . . they're a group of young artists who can really perform."