“Arizona Lady” – Arizona Opera

This review aired on KBAQ October 19, 2015


Arizona Opera, Symphony Hall
Phoenix, AZ

How often do you see cowboy hats at the Arizona Opera?  Not often but the United States premiere of the first professional opera staging of Emmerich Kalman’s operetta, “Arizona Lady,” set in 1925 Tucson, brought lots of them to Symphony Hall.

What was on stage over the weekend looked and sounded a lot like big contemporary Broadway musicals complete with elaborate sets, attractive costumes, and a silly story reminiscent of ancient operettas like “The Student Prince,” “The Vagabond King,” and Gilbert and Sullivan creations.  But like those early operettas, “Arizona Lady” is saddled with a predictably resolved love story surrounded by a pretty if undistinguished score of hummable tunes that were easy on the ears.

And like so many of its similar shows, the dumb plot drags on for an eternity going nowhere and the pleasing score doesn’t compensate for the excessive almost three hour running time nor are there enough good songs to sustain the piece.  But the Arizona Opera production was sleekly professional as impressive stage direction and acceptable dances kept the show moving along with commanding musical backup by a fine orchestra and an impressive cast of polished singers who acted with more conviction and depth than is usually seen at an opera staging.

The operetta’s title refers to a prize-winning race horse owned by Lona who is wooed by cowboy Roy.  There’s a secondary love interest between Chester and Nelly, all overseen by the local sheriff.  You don’t need me to tell you how this frail plot turns out because after the first few minutes, there isn’t a bit of surprise or tension in the humdrum story.

Angela Fout was a convincing Lona and she sang with assured range and depth.  Robert Orth was a blustery sheriff and Joshua Dennis was a typical uneffacing Roy, the cowboy.  Andrew Penning and Sarah Tucker were sparkly as Chester and Nelly.  An impressive and sizable chorus sang beautifully and moved well in the many crowd scenes.

To be sure, “Arizona Lady” is not destined to become an operatic staple but for most audiences who have never seen the creation, it was a pleasant diversion.  It was also interesting to note the opera audience regulars were supplemented by younger operagoer’s who may have been attracted by a selection that was not a traditional warhorse opera.

“Arizona Lady” closed Sunday, October 18, 2015 at Symphony Hall.  It was an impressive production of a pleasant but unforgettable operetta.

Grade: C