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Merry Widow
Merry Widow

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Merry Widow waltzes across ABT stage
Christene Meyers | Posted: Thursday, November 1, 2001 11:00 pm

Rimrock Operas third production shaping up with stars, spectacle. 
Fabulous voices.
High energy.
Enchanting humor.
The best yet.
All that and its in English!Thats the buzz on The Merry Widow, Rimrock Operas latest undertaking, which enters final rehearsals Monday and hits the boards a week from tonight. One of the nations newest opera companies has chosen a user-friendly operetta for its autumn, 2001, offering. Its got gorgeous costumes, constant action, a fun plot, says artistic director Douglas Nagel.

As established in last years Madama Butterfly, the production merges the best in voices of the region with a few imported singers. Region has quite a spread, with several one-hour commutes to nearby towns, and one singer commuting 90 minutes each way for rehearsals. Towns represented are Lovell, Powell and Worland, Wyo., and in Montana: Big Timber, Belfry, Fromberg, Silesia, Shepherd, Fishtail, Pryor, Laurel and Joliet.

The Franz Lehar work features soprano Evelyn de la Rosa from San Diego, and New Yorkers Chris Thompson, baritone, and Brett Colby, tenor, along with well known Billings singers Anita Rawlinson, Ed Harris, Leonard Orth, Lois Bent, Gary Treglown, Jennifer Jones and Tom Wagner.

Set in Paris in 1905, the story is classic opera: love and flirtation, proposals, near disasters, salvations and money matters.

In the title role of Hanna is de la Rosa, a Reno, Nev., native. Her character is widow of the wealthiest man in Pontevedro, the small country at whose embassy the story unfolds. Thompson, a native Kansan, plays Count Danilo, once in love with Hanna and still interested in her. Both singers have solid credits –Thompson with San Diego Opera, Utah Festival Opera, Rogue Opera and Loyola Opera and de la Rosa in San Francisco Opera, Michigan Opera Theater, Spoleto Festival and San Diego Opera. She has been praised as the most colorful coloratura in America.

Director Nagel hand-picked the two for their talent, spirit and audience appeal. They are just so much fun to watch, he says. The comic timing is imperative and these two have it in spades. We keep the action going from the first dance.

Nagel is especially thrilled to have versatile Billings singer Ed Harris in our backyard to round out the major vocal parts.Nagel, Thompson and de la Rosa are old friends and opera word of mouth helped book tenor Colby to play Camille, a young attache having a flirtation with Billings singer Anita Rawlinsons Valencienne, a married woman by the way.

Thompson and de la Rosa say their small-town roots, and heartland upbringings give them insight into mounting the Billings production.
If its all imported, theres no local pride, says de la Rosa. This is the perfect way to do it – blending your towns best talents with a few outsiders who really love your town. You cant go wrong with that kind of exciting partnership. The connection to the community is critical.

Says Thompson, Im right at home here. The people, the landscape, even the wind. Theres often greater enthusiasm for the arts in smaller towns than in the cast-of-thousands cities.

Both leads praise the knowledgeable supporting cast, solid chorus and directors choice for the companys third major project. Barbara Day Turner returns to Billings from San Jose Chamber Orchestra to conduct the full pit orchestra. Bernard Rose is stage manager and Jeff Boschee handles lighting.
The companys theme, says publicity chairman Lloyd Mickelson, is Opera is for everyone.

Its a perfect love story, says Thompson. Everything is heartfelt. Theres a lot of physical comedy and its brimming with wit.
Oh, yes, he adds, If you havent seen a kick line of men in black tie, nows your chance. It should bring the house down.

Opera company in final push toward staging Merry Widow
CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Arts & Entertainment Editor | Posted: Monday, November 5, 2001 11:00 pm

Even when its down to the wire, its all show biz for Doug Nagel, artistic director of Rimrock Opera Co. That extends to making his performers feel comfortable in the final week of rehearsal, surrounding them with flowers, fussing over them with praise, applying gentle coaxing, always with plenty of gesture.To calm his players, Nagel staged a visit to Moss Mansions flower bedecked solarium.It took the edge off the strain of taxing rehearsals and photo shoots as the company prepares for what they hope will be a sellout.

Two of the lead players are Brett Colby, of New York, and Billings-based Anita Rawlinson.

Their characters – Camille de Rosillon and Valencienne – come together in the Nov. 9 and 11 production of The Merry Widow. In opera tradition, theres no simple telling of the plot. But the action takes place in the Pontevedrian embassy, Paris, 1905. Rawlinson describes her character Valencienne as the somewhat flirtatious wife of an important baron.

Baron Mirko Zeta leads his guests in a toast, his wife, Valencienne, is having a flirtation with Camille, a young attractive attache. She’s a lot of fun, Rawlinson says. In fact, so is the entire story. I think its a terrific choice for it is truly user-friendly. The fact that the opera is in English and contains many familiar tunes should appeal, Colby agrees.

I didnt really know a thing about the company, but found about it through Doug Nagels agent, Colby says. The word of mouth is terrific, so Im thrilled to be here. This is only the New York natives second visit West, he says, and Im impressed with the interest in opera here.

He sees the opera as attracting young couples, older folks, students, the complete gamut – its funny and not too heavy. He and Rawlinson also stress that the singers will not use microphones as they hold forth from the ABT stage. The audience will be hearing completely natural voices from people who truly know how to project to the last seat in the house, Colby says.He also predicts that people will recognize tunes they’ve heard in commercials.

So much of advertising pulls from the repertoire of opera and classical music, he says, ticking off themes from Star Wars, The Omen, 2001: A Space Odyssey and more. Kids have grown up hearing fragments of Verdi and Puccini to sell products, Colby says. I think even teens will find this appealing, in the style of what is now called hip-hopera.

The talents in the regional chorus has been rehearsing for several weeks, and full-tilt rehearsals began Oct. 22, using St. Lukes, Grace Lutheran, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd and other local venues. The production moves to the ABT on Tuesday, with final dress Wednesday and a night off Thursday to rest weary voices before the Friday opening.

Within the cast of nearly 50 are a dozen lead and supporting singers and a 35-member chorus from a dozen towns in Wyoming and Montana. A few singers make a three-hour roundtrip commute. Several children also appear on stage in extra roles. Among them are two of Rawlinsons six youngsters.
Its a wonderful grooming experience, she says. This is where the little kids get their initial stage exposure. It will create life-long performing-arts lovers.That is part of Rimrock Operas goal, says Lloyd Mickelson, the publicity director. Our motto is opera is for everyone. and we saw that come true at last year at Butterfly with the great crowd mix, he says.

The audience included people dressed to the nines, along with couples out on a casual date, cowboys and the variety we hoped for, in fulfilling our mission, Mickelson notes.

Of Merry Widow, Nagel says, We are so lucky to have this group of singers, including coloratura soprano Evelyn de la Rosa and baritone Chris Thompson, both nationally known with credits from opera companies on both coasts.
They, in turn, sing the praises of Montana and Wyoming singers and musicians. They are knowledgeable and talented, Thompson says.The mix of imported key players with regional artists gives what de la Rosa calls a unique flavor to the project.

While Oregon import and assistant director Dorinda Doolittle sees to myriad details, Nagel focuses on his voices.
I really think this is our best work yet, he says. The blend of personalities is just magnetic.

A recent preview for a few guests brought kudos, he said.
Its apparent that these singers are having too much fun. That will spill over the footlights, he says.

Even if people think they dont like opera, Id like to try to make converts of them. I think Merry Widow could pull that off.Christene Meyers can be reached at 657-1243 or at cmeyers@billingsgazette.com.

Review: ‘Widow’ good and merry time
CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Entertainment Editor | Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2001 11:00 pm

Rimrock Opera Company’s “The Merry Widow” is everything a night of light opera should be: colorful, funny, frothy, well sung and, for the most part, fast-paced.

At final technical rehearsals and previews this week, the young company’s third major production proved itself a proud sequel to last year’s “Madama Butterfly.” The story of a wealthy widow, her suitors and endless flirtations of all concerned opens with wonderfully crisp orchestral sounds. Barbara Day Turner conducts the accomplished pit, particularly strong in strings and woodwinds. She returns to Billings from her music direction of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra, “delighted to be back to have more fun with fine musicians,” she said between acts.

Director and Billings native Douglas Nagel wooed top talent to the Magic City for leading players in this turn-of-century Franz Lehar work. In the title role, soprano Evelyn de la Rosa plays the spirited, sprightly voiced widow Glawari, heir to the fortune of the wealthiest man in Pontevedro. Enjoying her freedom in Paris, the well heeled Glawari kicks up her heels, worrying the Pontevedrians that she’ll marry a foreigner and send their tiny country into bankruptcy. De la Rosa has just the right mix of sexiness and propriety, and the voice of a young Beverly Sills. She truly dresses the stage!
The whats-to-become-of-the-money question sets the tone for a series of silly but thoroughly enjoyable coincidences, presumptions, protestations and operatic enigmas, all with the requisite happy ending.

Fans of the waltz will enjoy the footwork as the attaches, wives, lovers and aristocrats waltz, weave and even form a kick line. And Nagel throws in local color, with reference to PAYS, the local livestock auction, and other Billings landmarks.

Winning laughs as the “vehhrrrry, vehhrrrry” French Camille de Rosillon is New Yorker Brett Colby, whose lovely tenor voice scales the heights and whose accent is a giddy spoof. Kansas born bariton Chris Thompson offers his velvet voice as the imposing Count Danilo. He, too, wins the audience over as he romances the widow, thinks he’s won then lost her, and ultimately honors his obligations to his country. Billings supplies strength and stage presence with the talents of Ed Harris as the at-first buffaloed baron Zeta, and Anita Rawlinson as his coquettish wife, Valencienne. A dozen other Billings actors play supporting roles as various vicomtes, counsuls, wives, lawyers, colonels and clerks. All look terrific – sharp and in character with little bits of business. The Victor Leon and Leo Stein libretto is showy, enhanced with imported costumes and sets that stage for the frivolous antics.

The growing Rimrock Opera Chorus is icing on the fluffy cake with its rich, full sound thanks to solid voices from a 350-mile radius. 

What fun to see the company grow and sharpen. Kudos, Nagel. We await your return next August to sing the evil Baron Scarpia in ROC’s “Tosca.”

Opera is Billings native’s life
CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Arts & Entertainment Editor | Posted: Friday, March 23, 2001 11:00 pm

He’s back, he’s bustling about town and he’s already deeply involved in “The Merry Widow,” which performs Nov. 9 and 11 at the Alberta Bair Theater.

In a fast-paced 10 days, Billings-born baritone Douglas Nagel cast “Widow” and helped orchestrate four other major projects related to opera in the nation’s newest full-fledged company.Nagel, the man behind the magic at Rimrock Opera Company, returns to his part-time Montana home as artistic director of the company’s upcoming fall production of “The Merry Widow.”

Looking forward to it and buoyed by the region’s reaction to last year’s “Madama Butterfly,” Nagel says he’s “thrilled with the reception the company is getting both among the Billings opera constituency and the stars attracted to it.

Opera lovers can look forward to three related events before the actual production is staged: “The Best of Doug Nagel” features a selection of opera, Broadway and art songs in two shows, 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. tonight at All About Pianos, 1116 Grand Ave.

The company will present “Billings Opera Stars” on Saturday, Aug. 4, at the ABT, with cuttings from “The Merry Widow,” “Tosca,” “Carmen,” “The Magic Flute” and more. Tickets go on sale May 1 for $35, $20 and $10. The show will feature familiar voices such as Michelle Johner, Alissa Rose, Lesley Jordan, Lois Bent, Robert, Dale, Leonard Orth, William Mouat, Stephanie Mouat, Ed Harris, Rawlinson, Cassandra Norville, Kiel Klaphake, David Barnett and Heather Gottschalk. Sandi Rabas and Jane Orth accompany.

On Oct. 21, the company presents its music and merriment fund-raiser, which Nagel calls “a big fun-raiser.”An ecstatic Nagel just learned that internationally known opera diva Evelyn de la Rosa will participate. She will sing the leading role in “Widow” the following month, and Nagel said she arranged her schedule to arrive in Billings a month early “to rehearse, entertain, educate and be a member of our community.”

The autumn “Operafest” will feature her and others. Location and particulars will be announced soon.

The company also will present a popular School Show Tour around the region.
Last year’s “Madama Butterfly“ school presentations were widely successful, prompting expansion of the opera-in-the schools program, a collaboration between the company and area school districts. A one-act opera, “The Telephone,” will be toured by Rimrock Opera.

“It’s a one-act comedy about a couple. He tries to court her, but she won’t get off the phone,” Nagel said.

The casting of “The Merry Widow” was completed recently, and the production will feature national stars such as de la Rosa, Chris Thompson and Anita Rawlinson, along with well-known regional vocalizers singing secondary and chorus parts.

San Francisco-based Nagel, 42, is in Billings for 10 days to meet with his board and establish groundwork for the second annual production, related school tours and fund-raisers.

He said the stature of the company and its reputation is expanding, with a three-day tour to Sheridan, Wyo., planned to promote the company, as well as a fourth evening in the Wyo Theater featuring Nagel and friends in “Opera Pops.”

Nagel just finished singing “Rigoletto” at Opera San Jose, where he free-lances, and he successfully staged “Madama Butterfly” for the Sacramento Opera.

He soon begins a stay as artist in residence at Idaho State University, but will commute frequently between California and Montana.“I have two homes,” he says happily. “And one is right here in Billings.”