Broad Street Review

Concert Operetta’s ‘A Waltz Dream’
A Waltz Dream
. Operetta by Oscar Straus; directed by Daniel Pantano; Michele Scanlon, music director.
Concert Operetta Theater production June 20-21, 2009 at Warden Theater,
Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce St.

The good old days of central Europe

Philadelphia ’s Concert Operetta Theater has evolved to the point where its offerings can be counted on for excellent singing and emotionally satisfying performances. This is quite an accomplishment for a genre once considered to be dead. Concert Operetta Theater is the only performing arts group in the U.S. that has a full season dedicated to operettas, which it produces usually in new translations. This genre features hummable melodies that provoke nostalgia for the glorious days of European monarchies.

Enthusiastic audiences greeted the company’s latest production, A Waltz Dream, which was a hit in Vienna and on Broadway in 1907 and 1908 but hasn’t been heard much in recent decades.
That’s a shame, not only for today’s deprived audience but, more important, for today’s deprived singers. Daniel Pantano, Concert Operetta Theater’s artistic director— himself an operatic baritone and a graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts—has proselytized the operetta genre to young vocalists who otherwise devote most of their careers to Mozart, Verdi and Puccini (if today’s opera singers study a Strauss, it’s probably Richard rather than Johann or Oscar). So we get a growing body of fine singers who are comfortable singing these old warhorses.

In effect Pantano demonstrates the attractiveness of operetta to a new generation.

Operettas sound best when the singers possess power and high notes in reserve. Back in 1908, at the Broadway premiere of A Waltz Dream, the leading man was Edward Johnson, who went on to a career as a Metropolitan Opera tenor at and eventually served as the Met’s general manager from 1937 until 1950.

A Waltz Dream was made into a 1931 Ernst Lubitsch film entitled The Smiling Lieutenant, starring Maurice Chevalier and Claudette Colbert. No lung power there, but when shows like this are put on stage, they work best with trained voices, as long as the singers also can act.

Michael Gallant, Darlene Kelsey and Kemper Florin definitely can. In this production they looked glamorous as a princess, her new husband and “the other woman,” and they moved well and sang gloriously.

The plot, as in most operettas, is silly: On a visit to Vienna, an Eastern European princess marries a commoner. She treats him with a cavalier attitude that makes him feel insecure. On his wedding night, he sneaks out to meet a female musician from back home. Will he be true to his wife, or will he return to his roots?

This is slight stuff, and the music is pleasant without being breath-taking. A Waltz Dream isn’t on the musical level of some other operettas from that period. Even so, I enjoyed the two and a half hours of entertainment that this unusual company provided.

Michele Scanlon was music director and pianist. Pantano adapted the script from the English libretti by Basil Hood and Grace Isabel Coilbron.