Review: Superb music, well-acted comedy make 'Daughter of the Regiment' a standout
A rare combination of inspired staging with brilliant singing makes Pittsburgh Opera's production of “The Daughter of the Regiment” a perfectly high-spirited conclusion to the company's season. Performances continue through May 10.
Gaetano Donizetti wrote “La fille du Regiment” in 1840 for the Opera Comique in Paris. The romantic comedy is the story of a young woman, Marie, found as an orphaned child on a battlefield and raised by a French regiment during the Napoleonic Wars.
Stage director Sean Curran created this hilarious production for Opera Theatre of St. Louis. A dancer and choreographer, Curran's approach draws upon American musical theater, which is part of the same theatrical line with French operetta. His program notes quote Beverly Sills as saying Marie is for a “Lucille Ball with high notes.”
Pittsburgh Opera helps Curran's creative go-for-the-laughs approach by performing the work in English and providing projected subtitles.
Soprano Lisette Oropesa's Marie was a triumph May 2 at the Benedum Center, utterly winning in both the role's vocal challenges and the physical demands of Curran's staging. Her voice is wonderfully suited to the role, warm and rounded in tone but also pure, and sparkling in coloratura. “The Song of the Regiment” started with a lovely vocal flourish, then proceeded with irresistible elan.
Oropesa proved a master of physical comedy throughout, especially in a dance lesson Curran interpolates during the orchestra entr'acte after intermission. In the first act, we meet Tonio, Marie's guy, who joins the regiment to be with her. But at the end of that act the Marquise of Berkenfeld claims Marie as her “niece.”
The second act takes place at the castle of the Marquise, who is providing Marie with lessons to add refinement appropriate for an arranged aristocratic marriage. The choreography for the four dancers gives Marie klutzy moves right out of a routine by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Oropesa offered a perfect lesson in comic gestures and timing.
Joyce Castle sang and acted a decisively characterized Marquise, both pretentious and insecure. She also played piano for Marie's voice lesson, in which Donizetti has Marie veer off into bits of the Regimental Song, which causes the Marquise to lose it.
Tenor Lawrence Brownlee gave a thrilling performance of Tonio, and not only because he had no problem with the string of high C's in “Ah, mes amis.” He sang those three words in French but the rest of the scene with the soldiers in English.
Brownlee's Tonio was a smartly nuance portrayal, confident only in his love relationship with Marie. He needs to win the approval of the soldiers in Act 1, and does. He sang with and about Marie with romantic ardor.
Kevin Glavin was magnificent as Sergeant Sulpice, the ranking soldier. His remarkable comic gifts are well known to Pittsburgh music lovers, and he was in great voice.
Curran's staging enlarges the role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp, whose son is to marry Marie. Anna Singer was a hoot as the Duchess, including her rendition of Noel Coward's “Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington,” an enjoyable if improbable digression.
Phillip Gay as Hortensius, butler to the Marquise, and Dimitrie Lazich as the corporal were excellent in smaller roles. The men of Pittsburgh Opera Chorus sang with spirit and power as the soldiers. They also handled their choreography well.
Dancers from Attack Theatre helped the production right from the start, when three women dance around a trio of soldiers during the overture.
Antony Walker led a buoyant performance, beautifully paced and balanced, and very well played by the orchestra.
The soldiers' French pride contributes to this works popularity in France. So, too, does the parody of Germanic aristocracy, the world of Berkenfeld and Krakenthorp. The names of the announced guests at Berkenfeld's reception include some excellent linguistic jokes, but no one following the names will miss the physical humor of the way one couple lurches in after being called.
Pittsburgh Opera's production of “The Daughter of the Regiment” will be repeated at 7 p.m. May 5, 7:30 p.m. May 8, and 2 p.m. May 10 at the Benedum Center, Downtown. Admission is $12.75 to $155.75. Details: 412-456-6666 or pittsburghopera.org.
Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.