Operettas are often regarded as lighthearted nonsense with ridiculous plots and unsubstantial music. But I don’t believe the enduring popularity of works like The Merry Widow—which has remained beloved since its premiere in 1905—can be dismissed so easily. Lehár’s operetta gives audiences a revealing snapshot of Viennese society in the early 20th century. It captures the smouldering eroticism of a culture in which women were claiming their rightful place in society. And it points to the nonchalant attitude the pleasure-loving Viennese had toward the Balkan strife that would soon ignite World War I and lead to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We should remember that, during the same time period Richard Strauss was writing the astonishing and disturbing score for the opera Salome and Schoenberg and Stravinsky were creating a new musical language that reflected in its very structure a society breaking apart. Lehár, on the other hand, appealed to a Viennese public addicted to dance tunes so irresistible that everyone was smitten and he conspired with them to ignore the tensions igniting all around them.
I freely admit that my attachment to operettas is also the result of the three years I lived in Vienna–the world’s “operetta capital”. I willingly let myself be carried away by the frothiness of Lehár’s score, which skilfully interweaves the cancans, galops, and waltzes of early 20th century Paris, with the rustic and folk elements of the fictitious Balkan state whose fate hangs in the balance. And my favourite part of this operetta is that Hanna, despite being in a man’s world, outwits the scheming gaggle of men who surround her and gets exactly what she wants.
As we launch our 58th season, I would like to thank our wonderful private and public supporters as well as our government partners, the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Columbia Arts Council and the City of Vancouver. I would l also like to say a special thank you to outgoing board Chair, Jill Bodkin, who has led us through challenging times with energy and commitment. And a warm welcome to new board Chair, Bill Maclagan, with whom I look forward to leading Vancouver Opera into the future.