One of the most popular operettas of all time is Franz Lahar's "The Merry Widow." If properly handled, its unabashedly romantic story and music are a delight.

The widow was merry, indeed, when the Prince George's Civic Opera opened its season with the operetta the last weekend in October. Under the guidance of music director Marc Tardue and stage director Dorothy Biondi, the familiar story and music took on exceptional freshness.

From the first, audiences know that the beautiful, wealthy Pontevedrian widow and the proud, impoverished Count Danilo Danilovitch must end up together. Though he was vowed never to tell her of his love, no one is surprised when, after some complications, he does so in the final act. The inevitable sparkled in the Prince George's production because no excess was allowed in staging or singing. A lively pace was set; movement avoided the fussy, and songs were never allowed to become sentimental exaggerations.

From principals through the chorus, the singing was uniformly good. Tenor Christopher Leo King, in particular, had an exceptionally rich and pleasing voice. There were occasional diction problems with Dorothy Krikorian, but she brought charm and enthusiasm to the widow's role, as did David McDanald Troup to the role of Count Danilo.

The next production of the Civic Opera will be "Hansel and Gretel" in December.

For community theater to be a success, a director must know and, more importantly, honor the resources available. The truth is well illustrated by Musicomedy Productions' current presentation, "Oklahoma," at the Bowie Arts Center in Whitemarsh Park.

Artistic director Wanda Gustin clearly understands how to bring out the best in a company. The staging was lively enough to keep an audience's interest, yet never so complex that cast members felt uncomfortable. The result was an air or naturalness, which was enjoyable for the audience and the performers.

Gustin's direction reflected a sensitive balance between the performers' abilities and the demands of the roles. Where actors were able to expand, they were encouraged to do so intelligently, in ways that enriched character delineation. Charlie Romanello was particularly effective in the part of Ali Hakim, the traveling salesman. Ele Reeves, despite some overacting, had a comic flair that suited the role of fickle Ado Annie.

The singing was, for the most part, acceptable if not exceptional. The leading roles of Curley and Laurey were ably sung by Gene Galvin, whose voice was quite pleasing, and Terry Wyland.

Sets were designed to suit the Bowie Art Center's stage, which is not large but has some depth. The center's warm, intimate interior contributed to the evening's congenial atmosphere.

"Oklahoma" continues tonight through Sunday evening. Musicomedy's other production this season will be "The Music Man" next May.

Last weekend, the Prince George's Philharmonic, one of the county's two symphony orchestras, presented its first concert of the season at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville. The program was dedicated to the memory of Loreen Poptanich, who was a violinist with the orchestra from its earliest days and a member of the county arts division staff until her recent death.

The selections were fitting, from the opening "Adagio for Strings," an elegaic work by the American composer Samuel Barber, to the closing Mendelssohn "Symphony No. 5" (The Reformation), a musical declaration of faith. The Mendelssohn, in particular, was expressively played by the orchestra.

Cellist Evelyn Elsing appeared as soloist in the evening's other work, Edward Elgar's "Concerto for Cello and Orchestra," a dramatic work of late British romaticism. Demonstrating why she was a finalist in this year's Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition, Elsing played with a warm tone and sound musicianship. It was a pleasing, if not passionate, performance.