For Metropolitan Opera star Roberta Peters, the hard part of Lehar's "The Merry Widow" isn't the singing.
"The hard part is to find the real love story that's between Danilo and Hanna (the Widow)," Peters said. "All the rest, you can do a lot of fluff here and there, but . . . to really get how she challenges him and he challenges her and then how they finally really do get together, that's the hard part."
Peters will be singing the title role for Opera Pacific, Friday through Jan. 30 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. Ron Raines will sing Danilo. Mitchell Krieger will conduct. Dorothy Danner will be the stage director. Both Krieger and Danner will be working with Opera Pacific for the first time.
"I've never worked with (Danner) before," Peters said, "but she's got some great ideas. She moves me around in a wonderful way. There is a lot of movement and dancing and really getting to the story."
The familiar if complicated plot tells the story of the wealthy Balkan widow, Hanna Glawari, and her concealed love for Count Danilo, who is afraid to reveal his love for her because he doesn't want to look like just another of her many suitors with dollar signs in their eyes.
For Peters, a native New Yorker who concluded a 35-year regular association with the Metropolitan Opera in 1985, this "Widow" production meant learning a new English translation. "It's not altogether different, but there are some different things in it," she said.
She also had to learn some new music. "There's a duet in here that's absolutely charming--in the First Act between Danilo and Hanna--that's not in the version I learned. It's in the original. So I'm very happy to put it in, and it's very good for the story."
Peters was 19 when she made her Met debut in 1950 as Zerlina in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" as a last-minute replacement. Her official debut as the formidable Queen of the Night in Mozart's "Die Zauberflote" had been scheduled for two months later.
During her long and distinguished career at the Met, Peters was especially noted for her coloratura roles requiring high, light and agile singing of virtuosic arias.
"Today, one of the members of the ('Widow') cast asked me, 'So what is your secret of staying in so long?' It's very hard to say. There are lots of different reasons. First and foremost, I stayed with the correct repertoire for me. I didn't go into too much Puccini. I didn't do 'Toscas.' I stayed with the (lighter) 'Lucias,' 'Rigolettos' and 'Barbers' and didn't push my voice.
"I would have loved to do a 'Salome'--I love that kind of (heavy Germanic) music--but not in this lifetime.
"The other thing I had was very supportive help from my family. And I was well; that's very helpful. I never had any trouble with my throat--major trouble, like some singers have nodes (on their vocal chords). God forbid! I never had nodes in my life.
"And I was so lucky. I had a wonderful teacher. His name is William Herman. He took me as a little girl from the Bronx, who didn't know a thing--nobody in my family ever sang--and threw me into this completely different world. And, of course, I was ready to accept it."
What: Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow."
When: Friday and Saturday, Jan. 21 and 22, and Wednesday, Jan. 26 through Jan. 29 at 8 p.m.; also Sunday, Jan. 23 and Jan. 30 at 2 p.m.
Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
Whereabouts: San Diego (405) Freeway to Bristol Avenue exit north. Turn right onto Town Center Drive.
Wherewithal: $15 to $75.
Where to call: (714) 979-7000.
The Vienna Choir Boys will perform a one-act opera derived from the music of Johann Strauss ("Tales From the Vienna Woods"), as well as works by Mozart, Verdi and Schumann on Saturday, Jan. 22, at 8 p.m. at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, Cerritos. (310) 916-8510.
The Southwest Chamber Music Society will play works by Mozart (String Quartet in D, K. 575) and Elliott Carter (including "A Warble for Lilac Time," "Three Poems of Robert Frost" and "Voyage," among others) on Sunday, Jan. 23, at 4 p.m. at Chapman University, Orange. (714) 997-6815.
Philippe Entremont will conduct the Dresden Philharmonic in works by Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky on Tuesday, Jan. 25, at 8 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Entremont will also be the pianist in Beethoven's Triple Concerto, with violinist Cho-Liang Lin and cellist Carter Brey. The concert is sponsored by the Philharmonic Society. (714) 646-6277.