On Sunday, April 11, Franz Lehar's ever popular operetta "The Merry Widow" is being presented at the Desert View Performing Arts Center in Saddlebrooke.

The performance, by the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra with guest artists from the Southern Arizona Opera Company, begins at 3 p.m.

This is the second time SASO has performed an operatic work at SaddleBrooke, previously performing a Puccini opera to a sold-out audience.

Lehar's "Die lustige Witwe, The Merry widow" in three acts will be sung in English. The first performance was in December of 1905 at Vienna's Theater an der Wien. It was Lehar's first and greatest success.

Merry Widow has had many adaptations and language versions over the years, with the original being most closely followed today. There are even two ballets, one by Robert Helpmann of Covant Garden and the other by Lachbery and Abbot in Australia. Movies have recorded the work, starting with a silent version with Mae West in 1925 and a Jeanette MacDonald release in 1934. Today there are several performances available on DVD, with San Francisco Opera Companies' being outstanding.

The three-act work centers on the widow Hanna a soprano. Supporting roles include two counts, a baron, military attaches, diplomats, wives and other roles calling for sopranos, tenors and baritones.

Librettists Leon and Stein based the story on an 1861 French comedy play "L'attache' d'ambassade" (The Embassy Attache') by Henri Meilhac. The operetta (much lighter than an opera) features confusion, innuendo, misinformation and a ladies folding fan all leading to comical intrigue. Interspersed with the spoken dialogue are the musical selections that highlight the work.

Act I takes place in the Embassy of the Grand Duchy of Pontevedro in Paris. The feature character is a recent widow who has inherited 20 million francs. The embassy officials hatch a plot to have her marry someone from Pontevedro in order to keep her money in the impoverished Duchy. The action features all the officials and "beautiful people." The main male suitor is Count Danilo. The famous waltz is heard for the first time. This story is somewhat similar to another spoof, The Mouse that Roared.

Act II is a garden party at Hanna's home where everyone is dressed in Pontevedrian style. This is where Hanna sings the well-known "Vilja" song, "I am Vilja the Maid of the Forest." The general confusion of the plot amplifies as things become ever more a misadventure. Another big song is "You'll Find Me at Maxim's."

Act III is Hanna's ballroom, decorated to be like Maxim's and representing a Parisian party. In this final act, all the previous confusions get resolved and Hanna chooses a husband in a rousing finale. Much of the previous music gets reprised here.

Following a major crowd pleaser in the last SASO concert of the Elgar Cello Concerto and Ginastera's wild Argentine Pampas Ballet Suite Estancia, conductor Linus Lerner will again lead the orchestra with soloists in "The Merry Widow."

In addition to the April 11 program at SaddleBrooke, the production will be repeated on April 18 at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Oro Valley, also starting at 3 p.m. Check with the Mountain View Country Club ticket site for SaddleBrooke tickets and tickets will be available at the door for both performances. Readers can also go to www.sasomusic.org for information of any kind about the orchestra.

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