On this day in classical music: Austrian composer Franz Lehar was born in Hungary in 1870. The son of a bandmaster, Lehar would achieve fame through his many popular operettas: “The Land of Smiles,” “The Countess of Luxembourg,” “Paganini,” “Giuditta” and his most famous, “The Merry Widow.” This tale about a widow and her substantial inheritance produced many classic melodies, including “Vilia” and the “Merry Widow Waltz.” Joan Sutherland made her North American farewell in this Lehar classic. In this clip, Sutherland (as Hanna) makes her entrance in a 1979 production of “The Merry Widow” in Sydney, Australia. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-5ES4-zmV4
On this day in the musical theatre: “Barnum,” a Cy Coleman musical about the legendary Prince of Humbug, opened on Broadway in 1980. Jim Dale portrayed the energetic showman and Glenn Close starred as his wife Charity. The production captured the extravagance of the circus, with tightrope walkers, jugglers, trapeze artists and clowns. Coleman’s high spirited score captured the essence of the circus, from a patter song about Barnum’s attractions to a charming anthem that illustrated the couple’s opposing views about the colors of their respective lives. Dale won a Tony Award and the production also earned Tonys for scenic and costume design.
Musical musings: “The Merry Widow Waltz” was the first piece I played as a beginning band member. I shudder to think what our efforts sounded like but even then, Lehar’s charming melody made a vivid impression on my young ears. Years later, I was fortunate to be part of the pit orchestra for a fully-staged production of Lehar’s masterpiece. In 1989, I saw Joan Sutherland’s North American farewell at the Dallas Opera. At 62, Sutherland was a bit long in the tooth to play the elegant widow but her supple voice was mesmerizing. To this day, I never tire of hearing Lehar’s gorgeous score.