Light Opera Works celebrates top tunes
‘Operetta’s Greatest Hits’
Light Opera Works, Nichols Concert Hall, Music Institute of Chicago, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston
8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m.
Sundays, Oct. 5-14, and 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10
(847) 920-5360; www.lightoperaworks.com
Six of Light Opera Works’ most popular performers are preparing to treat audiences to “Operetta’s Greatest Hits.” Artistic Director Rudy Hogenmiller is directing and choreographing a cornucopia of selections from operettas by Johann Strauss, Franz Lehar, Sigmund Romberg and other composers of that genre.
The concert will be divided into two acts, with the first act focusing on European composers and the second act dedicated to American composers.
The biggest challenge in selecting pieces, Hogenmiller noted, was that so many favorites were “big romantic songs. We can’t do a whole evening of big, break-down-the-house romantic songs.” To balance the program, they included comical songs and duets.
That includes a medley of Gilbert and Sullivan’s patter songs. “Since it is a concert and they are not playing characters, we’re kind of bending the genders,” Hogenmiller said. “We’re letting the women sing patter songs that they never get to sing and the men sings patter songs that they never get to sing.”
Hogenmiller said that he and music conductor Marta Johnson decided “how much of each song we would do and any changes we wanted to make. Sometimes we would group them into a medley. We tried to get a flow going because we didn’t want the audience to feel like they had to applaud every song.”
Natalie Ford, who was Julie in “Carousel,” Eliza in “My Fair Lady,” Gigi in “Gigi” and Laurey in “Oklahoma!” at Light Opera Works is one of the three women in the show.
“I haven’t sung operetta in a little while,” Ford admitted. “That’s exciting to get to do some of the music that I was trained to sing in college and graduate school.”
Ford earned a bachelor’s degree in music and vocal performance from Valparaiso University and a graduate degree from Indiana University. While attending Indiana, she performed in “Don Giovanni,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Dialogues of the Carmelites.”
All but one selection from “Operetta’s Greatest Hits” is new music for Ford. The only repeat is a selection from “Die Fledermaus,” in which Ford performed at Valparaiso.
Despite having to learn everything else from scratch, Ford said that it hasn’t been difficult creating a character for each song. “Since I’m a light lyric soprano, I end up playing sort of the same character a lot — the sweet ingénue type,” she said.
One of Ford’s favorite selections is “Romance” from Sigmund Robert’s “The Desert Song.”
James Rank’s Light Opera Works appearances include Voltaire/Pangloss in “Candide,” File in “110 in the Shade,” Kodaly in “She Loves Me” and El Gallo in “The Fantasticks.”
“I first performed at Light Opera Works 20 years ago,” Rank said. “I am getting to sing some of the principal music that I heard when I was in the chorus. “
One of Rank’s favorite selections from the show is “The Desert Song” from Sigmund Romberg’s operetta of the same name. “It’s a lushly romantic ballad where the hero is inviting his ladylove to spend the night with him in the sandy wastes of Arabia under the starlit sky,” he said.
Rank will also be featured in a selection of songs from “The Merry Widow.” “I was lucky enough to be part of ‘The Merry Widow’ at Lyric a couple of years ago,” Rank said. “So it’s nice to revisit that effervescent Franz Lehar music.”
The cast also includes Alicia Berneche, Matthew Geibel, Colette Todd and George Andrew Wolff.
The singers will be accompanied by four musicians. “I put them right in the center of the stage,” Hogenmiller said. “They are part of the show.”