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Arizona Lady Poster
19 Oct 2015

Arizona Opera Premieres Kálmán’s Arizona Lady

Arizona Lady is the last operetta that Hungarian Jewish composer Emmerich Kálmán (1882-1953) wrote. A student at the Budapest Academy of Music, he learned from the same teachers as Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály. After successfully staging an operetta in Budapest, Kálmán moved to Vienna.

Arizona Opera Premieres Kálmán’s Arizona Lady

A review by Maria Nockin

Poster for Arizona Lady


There his operettas, which featured a combination of the Viennese waltz with his native csárdás, competed successfully with those of Franz Lehár. His Jewish origin did not come into the question until the rise of the Third Reich. He moved to Paris in 1938. In 1940, he established residence in the United States where he remained for the duration of the war.

Arizona Lady is an operetta in two acts with an original German libretto by Alfred Grünwald and Gustav Beer. Left unfinished at the time of the composer’s death, his son Charles Kálmán completed the score. The music was broadcast from Munich on New Year’s Day, 1954. A month later the Stadttheater in Bern, Switzerland, staged the piece. In July, 2010, Chicago Folks Operetta premiered it in an English translation by Gerald Frantzen and Hersh Glagov. Kathleen Kelly and Alberto Rios constructed the new German, English, and Spanish version seen at Arizona Opera’s 2015 West Coast premiere of the work.

I saw the performance of Arizona Lady on October 10 at the Tucson Convention Center. In the tradition of musical comedy, Mark Halpin’s scenery was theatrical and amusing rather than realistic and it included a beautifully stylized Arizona sunset that profited from Douglas Provost’s imaginative lighting. Kathleen Trott’s costumes and Slawomir Wozniak’s inventive choreography placed the action firmly in the nineteen-twenties. Director Matthew Ozawa told the story in a straightforward manner that helped to clarify the complicated libretto.

Arizona Lady is a horse that can save her owner’s ranch if she wins the Kentucky Derby. The story begins on a Tucson ranch owned by Lona, an immigrant whose native language is German and who remembers how to waltz. Her culture mixes surprising well with a charming Mexican ranchero, and a barbershop quartet that might have come from English speakers in Tucson. Lona, who insists she is a businesswoman rather than a mere marriage prospect, needs to find a qualified rider. As a result of the search, she eventually finds her true love.

As Lona, Angela Fout was a rough and ready Lona with strong high notes. Tenor Joshua Dennis who sang Ray Dennis had a captivating lyrical voice and his singing was absolutely enchanting. Veteran Robert Orth was a commanding Sheriff. He wanted to marry Lona and had trouble understanding that she would never fall in love with him.

Soprano Sarah Tucker is a member of Arizona Opera’s Young Artist Program who already showed some serious talent in last year’s Magic Flute. She sang Nelly Nettleton with pure, clear tones and danced like a flapper. She is already a most useful artist. As Lopez Ibañez, one of Lona’s unsuccessful suitors, Octavio Moreno sang a delightful Mexican song that won considerable favor with the audience.

Maria Dominique Lopez was a sexy Bonita. Francisco Renteria as Hector, Sergio Celis as Tomás, and James Mendola as Esteban completed the able bilingual Spanish-English contingent. Also contributing multiple talents to this excellent performance were: tenors Andrew Penning, Kevin Newell, and Paul Nicosia; baritone Joseph Lattanzi; and bass-baritone Calvin Griffin; along with actors Ian Christiansen and Dale Dreyfoos.

Soundclip from Arizona Lady, Act 1

Chorus Master Henri Venanzi’s ensemble sang their multiple harmonies with gusto in all three languages. Conductor Kathleen Kelly, who together with Alberto Rios translated the libretto, did a great deal of work on the score. At this performance, she gave a rousing rendition of this effervescent music that put smiles on the faces of the audience. Arizona Lady is a fine evening’s entertainment and I hope many more American opera companies will stage it.

Maria Nockin

Cast and production information:

Lona Farrell, Angela Fout; Sherriff Harry Sulivan, Robert Orth; Ray Dexter, Joshua Dennis; Chester Kingsbury, Andrew Penning; Nelly Nettleton, Sarah Tucker; Lopez Ibañez, Octavio Moreno; Jim Slaughter, Ian Christiansen; Bill Sanders, Joseph Lattanzi; Rex, Kevin Newell; Danny, Paul Nicosia; Algernon Benchley, Calvin Griffin; Peligreen, Dale Dreyfoos; Magnolia, Alyssa Martin; Bonita, Maria Dominique Lopez; Hector, Francisco Renteria; Tomás, Sergio Celis; Esteban, James Mendola. Rodeo Judges: Jonathan Gott, Dennis Tamblyn. Conductor, Kathleen Kelly; Director, Matthew Ozawa; Lighting Design, Douglas Provost; Scenic Design, Mark Halpin; Costume Design, Kathleen Trott; Chorus Master, Henri Venanzi; Choreographer, Slawomir Wozniak.

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