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IU Opera Theater presents ‘Roaring 20s’ production of ‘The Merry Widow’

WHAT: "The Merry Widow" by Franz Lehár
WHEN: 7 p.m. Oct. 18; 8 p.m Oct. 19 and 20; 2 p.m. Oct. 21
WHERE: Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave., IU Bloomington campus
TICKETS: Purchase tickets at the Musical Arts Center box office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., by phone at (812) 855-7433 or online at A discounted price is available for all students.
VIDEO STREAMING: Oct. 19 and 20 only. Featuring live blogging by musicology students.

Oct. 8, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - What do the Roaring 20s, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, and operetta have in common?

Left to right: Ben Werley, Hanna Brammer, Brayton Arvin, Katherine Weber and Brendon Ray Marsh rehearse a scene from IU Opera Theater's new production of "The Merry Widow."

Print-Quality Photo

They will all blend together in Indiana University Opera Theater's upcoming production of the musical comedy operetta "The Merry Widow" by Franz Lehár. Including new sets, costumes and stage direction, the show opens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, in the Musical Arts Center for one weekend only, ending with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Oct. 21.

While researching "The Merry Widow" -- which premiered in Vienna in 1905 -- it occurred to stage director Vincent Liotta, Jacobs School of Music professor of opera studies, that it was intended to reach the widest possible audience of its day by virtue of its modern feeling. His challenge then became how to make the operetta have the feeling of vibrancy and edginess that its history indicated.

"I asked myself 'What would feel both racy and vibrant but still speak of a more innocent time gone by?'" said Liotta. "The answer was the Roaring 20s, and with that came the necessity of thinking in Art Deco terms rather than in Art Nouveau."

"I think it will provide an interesting and different look at a story normally set several decades earlier," said guest set designer William Forrester, who last worked with IU Opera on spring 2012's "Der Rosenkavalier." "Designing the show has provided me with an opportunity and an excuse for spending hours looking at pictures from the Art Deco period, one of my favorite periods in the history of design. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to be working again for IU Opera because the standards of musicianship are so high."

Liotta and Forrester team up once again with costume designer Linda Pisano, head of the Costume Design Program at the IU Department of Theatre and Drama. This is her fifth IU Opera Theater production.

"Our production is set in 1925 with Art Deco sensibilities and flappers," said Pisano. "The costume approach is very much like the silent screen era. The very Art Deco scenic elements are black and gray and silver, while the costumes emulate what the clothing would have looked like if you were on the sound stage. Meaning, instead of black and white, as they would have appeared on film, they are very colorful and quite bright. The women's costumes have a great deal of beading and silk, while the men's costumes are very much a Fred Astaire-style tuxedo, down to the pocket flourish and boutonnières.

"Act II is very different from Act I as it is in folk costume the way Hollywood would interpret folk costume," she continued. "Many characters are inspired from real film stars like Harold Lloyd. Having a professional reason to watch silent films, reels of 1920s dance clubs and Fred and Ginger movies is always a plus!"

Also on the artistic and production team are Dale Rieling, guest conductor; Marie Barrett, guest lighting designer; Greg Graham, guest choreographer; and new Jacobs faculty member Walter Huff, chorus master.

"The music is structurally much closer to Jerome Kern, Victor Herbert and George M. Cohan than it is to Johann Strauss," said Liotta. "Its original premiere, as well as its London and New York premieres, was at a popular theater, not an opera house.

"All of these things taken together screamed at me: this needs to feel like a modern musical. And that is what we have attempted to do with a newly translated dialogue, lots of wonderful dancing -- including the Charleston and waltzing -- and an energetic musical comedy style."