We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.

SCRUTINY | Toronto Operetta Theatre’s Spirited Merry Widow A Holiday Treat

By Joseph So on January 1, 2024

Toronto Operetta Theatre, Spirited Merry Widow, 2023
Soprano Jonelle Sills and Baritone Nathan Keoughan in Toronto Operetta Theatre’s Spirited Merry Widow, 2023.

Jonelle Sills, sop., Olivia Morton, sop., Matt Chittick, ten., Nathan Keoughan, bar., Greg Finney, bar., Sebastien Belcourt, bar., Toronto Operetta Theatre Orchestra and Chorus, Derek Bate, conductor. Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, December 29, 2023.

Hey opera fans, are you suffering from the post-Yuletide blues or early winter blahs? The dreary, rainy weather that we’ve been getting in Toronto doesn’t help either. My advice is to give Toronto Operetta Theatre’s The Merry Widow a try.  It opened to a nearly full house on Friday evening at the Jane Mallett Theatre. After the show, I walked into the cold night air, found myself humming snippets from the show.

The Lehar masterpiece, together with Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, are two mega Holiday Season favourites with great music and feel-good happy endings. The ultra-romantic stories paired with the gorgeous tunes never fail to please the ears and lift the spirits. TOT has staged Merry Widow five times previously, in 1995, 2001, 2007, 2012, and 2019.  I fondly recall the lovely Hanna Glawari of soprano Leslie Ann Bradley back in 2012.

This time around, it’s the up-and-coming Jonelle Sills in the title role, making her TOT debut. A York University and Royal Conservatory of Music graduate, Sills was named one of Canada’s 30 hot classical musicians under 30 for 2020 by CBC Music. Her Mimi at the COC Boheme last October was lovely. It’s a major voice, to be sure. Her Hanna Glawari is youthful and impetuous; she sang with rich tone and a most impressive top, offering a lovely Viljalied, the only thing wanting was more of a high pianissimo.

She was paired with baritone Nathan Keoughan as Danilo, also making his Company debut. He possesses an attractive, ringing lyric baritone, making a very big sound, almost too forceful for the intimate 499-seat Jane Mallett Theatre. He acted with youthful energy and good dramatic acuity. Incidentally, his snore in Act Two was world-class!

Toronto Operetta Theatre, Spirited Merry Widow, 2023
Baritones Nathan Keoughan and Greg Finney

The second couple featured soprano Olivia Morton (Valencienne), also making her TOT debut. Her soubrette was light and soft, a touch underpowered in the middle. Opposite her was seasoned tenor Matt Chittick, reprising Camille, which he last sang for TOT in 2019. Perhaps it was opening night nerves, he founded the high tessitura in his two duets a challenge. That said, both embodied their roles well and gave pleasing performances.

A standout was baritone Sebastien Belcourt in the character role of Njegus, the secretary of the Embassy. Last heard as a charismatic Pirate King in the TOT Pirates of Penzance, Belcourt was a scene-stealing Njegus in the delicious number with the Grisettes of Maxim’s. Speaking of scene-stealing, nobody does it better than buffo baritone Gregory Finney as Baron Zeta, a role tailor-made for him. His comic timing and deadpan delivery contributed greatly to the merriment of the evening.

Toronto Operetta Theatre, Spirited Merry Widow, 2023
The Grisettes at Maxim’s

Also deserving of praise was the fine chorus, going that extra mile with their dancing in the show, thanks to the brilliant choreography of TOT Founder and Stage Director Guillermo Silva-Marin, who was also the set and décor designer. It never ceases to amaze me how with limited budget he manages to use the small and technically challenging Jane Mallett stage to such fine effect in all the shows over the years.

Compared to other Merry Widows productions, this one is particularly dialogue-heavy. Sung in English, it has the addition of various social and political commentaries, a specialty of Silva-Marin. Kudos to the ensemble cast for tackling everything with aplomb, especially the dancing with its high-kicking Can-Can numbers. The small, 12-member orchestra under veteran conductor Derek Bate did yeoman service. All in all, it is a terrific way to spend a post-Christmas rainy evening in Toronto.

Additional performances on December 30, 31, and January 2. Details and tickets [HERE].

Joseph So
Share this article
comments powered by Disqus


company logo

Part of

Terms of Service & Privacy Policy
© 2024 | Executive Producer Moses Znaimer