THERE are several quite outstanding features in Witham Operatic Society's latest presentation of The Merry Widow. Elisabeth Miller's superb performance in the title role; Freda Wynne's exciting choreography in the second act and the ornate and colourful costumes. The production, in the experienced hands of Maurice Williams, revealed splendid singing, excellent chorus work and a most spectacular approach. Where it sagged, however, was in the absence of snap and crackle in the dialogue.
This is so essential to the situation comedy of the play that Tony Wood, as Baron Zeta and Tim Sheppard, as his eccentric factotum Njegus, found laughs hard to come by. Pat Harris, too, as the flirtatious Valencienne, although she sang sweetly, seemed a shade subdued until she led the grisettes in their strident chorus. But Edward Maltby and David Fletcher quarrelled comically as the contenders for the widow’s hand and the neat work of Ewart Cornﬁeld (Kromov), Peter Thomas (Bogdanovitsch), Jack Wilsher (Pritsch), Rita Page (Olga), Grace Rose (Sylvia) and Kathleen Adams (Praskovia) paid tribute to the acting strength of this vigorous company.
In their new and revealing costumes, the six grisettes gave us a pulchritudinous eyeful and their less statuesque sisters in the Can-Can had no difﬁculty in capturing our admiration also. The producer himself played Camille and his ﬁne tenor voice of exceptional range coped easily with the exacting demands of the part. We were, however, denied the full power of John Cave’s ﬁne baritone owing to a throat infection but his acting, as the handsome, dissipated Danilo easily carried the day.
Poised, graceful and conﬁdent, Elisabeth Miller brought before us a glamorous and authentic Anna Glavari. Quite her best part to date. The delightful orchestration of Franz Lehar's music was faithfully rendered by Ken Ferris and his musicians but their enthusiasm tended to swamp the soloists at times. If Witham Operatic go on like this the ticket touts will be moving in.
Seats have been hard to come by this week.
The lights go down, the orchestra strikes up, the strings’ hesitant intonation, then the over-assertive percussion. Another amateur operetta: I love them, and so do the people of Witham, to judge by the full house at "The Merry Widow" on Monday.
The production was very enjoyable without being in any way exceptional. The scenery was adequate, rather large for the stage, but I liked the black back-drop. The production, by Maurice Williams, who also sang and spoke most pleasingly as Camille, was very efficient, incredible feats of waltzing were achieved on the tiny Witham stage, and Elisabeth Miller's first entrance as the Widow had a spectacular simplicity that was just right. Her singing and stage presence were delightful.
Jon Cave, as the Count, gave the most polished performance of the evening. He was every inch a roué. Every note, every line, every gesture was effortlessly in character. Tim Sheppard, who played Njegus, worked very hard for laughs, which he deserved, underlined the plot, and even shifted scenery.
I must say, however, that some numbers were inaudible, and the chorus seemed hesitant and unsure. The big set-pieces, "Vilia," and the "Women, Women," septet did not work - in the ﬁrst place the orchestra was too loud and in the second the men were just not confident enough in the tricky song and dance routine.
I enjoyed the show, but I did notice that this is the second time Witham have done the Widow, and that their next production is The Gondoliers. Would I be alone in wanting something new from this talented Society?