Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
It's a pity tht the current run of the Washington Civic Opera's production of "The Merry Widow" ended last night at Disner, because this "Merry Widow" impresses me as the finest production in the company's history and one that might play to enthusiastic full houses for several weeks.
A large part of the charm that evoked repeated salvos of applause Thursday night can be credited, of course, to Franz Lehar, who gave this show more good tunes than you can hear in any other Viennese operetta except "Die Fledermaus." But the music can't play and sing itself, and Thursday night it was served up with a spirit and involvement that I have often found lacking in productions that feature more lustrous names and enormously larger budgets.
The production was, of course, semi-professional, with the limitations that this status implies, but at its best moments (and they were frequent), I found myself forgetting this basic fact and comparing it not unfavorably to the operatic big leagues.
All of the singing roles were adequately filled, the top four very well indeed, and Janet Pranschke in the title role had moments that were spectacular - most notably in her performance of the haunting "Vilja" song.
Michael Harrington, a very dashing and handsome Danilo Danilovich, acted as well as he sang, a rare and precious quality in tenors and one particularly well exemplified in the contrast between his two performances of the song about going to Maxim's.
Martha Randall as Valencienne and Robert Williamson as Camille gave strong supporting performances; Williamson's voice showed traces of strain once or twice but was otherwise splendidly rich in tone and handled with sensitive nuance.
A major share of the comedy in this production was supplied by Joseph Myerling as the Pontevedrian ambassador and Christian Kauffmann as Njegus, his secretary. Carefully poised in their sense of timing and well-coordinated in the small gestures that make a stock situation seem fresh, they brought unexpected life to their roles.
The aspect of this production that eclipsed earlier efforts by the Civic Opera, however, was the staging and direction - largely the work of Andrew Wilk, a very young and very promising director. The chorus in this production was notable not only for its fine vocalizing but for the lively stage action that accompanied it - particularly in the show-stopping number about "Girls, Girls, Girls" and the can-can sequence of the last act - but all through the production there was an added dimension of professionalism that was most welcome.