Around F.C., Arts & Entertainment

Franz Lehár Operetta Tribute Sparkles at Bel Cantanti

By Mark Dreisonstok

The singers, musicians, and dancers of Bel Cantanti’s “Franz Lehár: The King of Operetta!” Photo: Joshua Mongardini

Twenty years ago, Dr. Katerina Souvorova, who has served as a vocal coach at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, had a vision: she would establish an opera company in Northern Virginia which would present opera outside of traditional large opera houses, instead focusing on more intimate settings such as small theatres and churches. She would use smaller groups of musicians in lieu of a large concert orchestra and feature the talent of up-and-coming opera singers. Beautiful costumes would be used, but with simple props and backgrounds. The result was Bel Cantanti, which has provided our region with high-quality productions to the present day.

Bel Cantanti’s current production is a musical tribute, the fabulous “Franz Lehár: The King of Operetta!” It provides an exceptional evening of entertainment, with some of Lehár’s most popular pieces performed alongside the narrated biography of this Austro-Hungarian composer (his life during the Nazi era married to a Jewish wife is of particular interest).  Some of the operettas are summarized as well.

Musical highlights of the evening include “Csardas” from “Gypsy Love,” performed energetically by Emily Casey with a lovely piano introduction by Dr. Souvorova, who also serves as conductor. Soprano Casey also sings beautifully the haunting “Song of the Vilja” from “The Merry Widow,” arguably the most famous Lehár operetta. Here we should note some songs are performed in the original German and some in English translation, which should satisfy those who enjoy the singing in the original language as well as those who find singing in English more accessible.      

Two pieces are selected from “The Land of Smiles” which are sung masterfully, first Emily Casey and Nick Hudak in the beautiful duet “Wer hat die Liebe uns ins Herz gesenkt” and then the song often translated “You Are My Heart’s Delight” performed flawlessly by Nicholas Hudak.

Other performers, directed adroitly by choreographer Elena Indrokova Jones, bring much spectacle to the proceedings as colorful red and yellow costumes with headdresses are worn by the dancers in a piece from the “Blue Mazurka,” sung powerfully by tenor Nicholas Hudak. Elsewhere, too, exotic national folk costumes are employed in entertaining dance routines, making these operettas come to life with vibrancy and color. Indeed, Reba Winstead, assistant set director at Bel Cantanti (and local realtor with Keller Williams in Falls Church) notes: “Lehár’s operettas have captivated audiences worldwide for over a century with their beautiful melodies, engaging stories, and delightful characters. The current Bel Cantanti gala performances provide a chance to experience the enchanting world of operetta which blends elements of comedy, romance, and music.”

“Franz Lehár:  The King of Operetta!” is recommended as a rare opportunity to enjoy Viennese operetta in a highly entertaining, approachable manner, especially for those new to this wonderful art form. The production runs May 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m. and May 28 at 3:00 p.m. at the Bender Jewish Community Center, 6125 Montrose Road, Rockville, Maryland.  For more information, please visit: