Story: Merry Widow’ this weekend

Merry Widow’ this weekend; KJERSTEN OLSGAARD

A refined group of classical musicians, a proud number of whom have mixed roots in Billings, will present the Rimrock Opera Company’s upcoming production of Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow,” a tale brimming with laughs and love affairs.
Carolyn Coefield, performing the lead female role of Hanna Glawari, and Gennard Lombardozzi, singing Camille’s character, talked to me about their love and encouragement for opera, and specifically “The Merry Widow.”
Both of these musicians started their musical careers as young instrumentalists, eventually switching to and pursuing voice on a professional level. Coefield is now an adjunct professor of music at Rocky Mountain College, where she also received one of her degrees in music.
At the encouragement of Lombardozzi’s college voice teacher, this West High School graduate, after initially dragging his feet, went on to study and fall in love with opera in graduate school.
What is your favorite part of opera?
Coefield: “I love to study it. I love the research of a role, and I like to rehearse. And then the performance is just kind of like the icing on the cake.”
Lombardozzi: “The most exciting part for me is the collaboration that happens on stage between the characters, the energy between the performers … . I also have a huge love for the technique of voice in opera. Getting the efficiency of your sound takes a long time and a lot of training, it’s a challenge.”
What do you like or think is unique about “The Merry Widow?”
Coefield: “What I really love about it is that it’s so accessible. I think anybody can fall in love with this opera. The music is very singable, the characters are very real. There’s comedy and romance, kind of all the best things of a light opera.”
Lombardozzi: “It’s an operetta, a little lighter, a little light-hearted. I think it’s easy on the audience. When they leave, they’ll be smiling and happy – there’s no one dying or anything like that. It caters to dancing with a lot of waltzes. I think it’s easy to listen to, and then with the plot being comedic, it’s easy to watch also.”
With such dated material, how do you relate to your character/the plot?
Coefield: “The story is very timeless. It’s something that we see played over and over in films and in books. Sure, in a more contemporary fashion, but the whole idea of a romance gone sour and then rekindled back to life and in the end ultimately witnessing a joyous reunion, that’s something we see very often. It’s not an uncommon storyline for that fairytale romance that everybody likes to enjoy and escape with.”
Lombardozzi: “As a performer, you find things in a character that you can relate to in your own personality. And then, at least this is how I go about it, you try to make it as real as possible, but still you exaggerate parts of maybe your personality that you have or a personality trait that you can see in somebody else.
“The way Doug [Nagel, ROC’s general director] is having me play it, my character is a romantic, lust-filled, at-the-woman kind of guy. And I think everybody has a little bit of that in them or they want to. So you just take that feeling and you exaggerate it.”
What do you want people to know about this production?
Coefield: “I think for newcomers to opera, this is a wonderful introduction. I hope that people wouldn’t shy away from it because it has the tagline of opera. I think that can sound intimidating to people who are new to it. If you want to try something new, this is a terrific way to get started.”

With this feel-good storyline and a young but incredibly talented and passionate crew, “This opera sells itself,” said Lombardozzi.
The two couldn’t rave enough about Nagel and his fresh perspectives as well as the other musicians involved.

Other Billings-rooted musicians in this production include Chris Johnson, a Senior High graduate, who is Danilo, the lead male role. The choir director, Daren Small, teaches in Billings School District 2 and graduated from West High, as did Kristy Dallas, who performs Sylvaine. Like Coefield, Lance Hansen, singing St. Brioche’s role, graduated from RMC with a degree in vocal performance.

The Alberta Bair Theater will host two showings of “The Merry Widow,” this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Call the ABT box office for tickets and more information at 256-6052.