If your operatic desire is to hear one glorious aria after another sung by two operatic voices that would make the gods envious –set against a deliriously “light-as-air” comically sentimental soufflé of a libretto, immerse yourself in the Washington National Opera’s current production of Gaetano Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment.
Written by Donizetti while he was living in Paris between 1838 and 1840, one of the primary reasons for its success was due to the success of the famous aria “Ah! mes amis, quell jour de fete!” (More on this later in the review——)
This opera is played with consummate skill and finesse by the entire ensemble and guided by the precise Directorial and Choreographic hand of Robert Longbottom. Mr. Longbottom wisely keeps things moving briskly and places the emphasis where it should be-on the thrilling music of Donizetti.
It cannot be stressed enough that the glory of this opera is the ravishingly entrancing and effervescent arias that permeate the proceedings with lustrous enhancement.
Washington National Opera Orchestra Conductor Christopher Allen interprets Donizetti’s music with utter sensitivity and nuance.
The lead character of this disarming opera is the vivacious and “military –minded“ Marie who has been adopted as the regimental daughter and caretaker of the many men who are serving in the French Army. Soprano Lisette Oropesa performs her acting duties with sprightly and intricately comic panache but this is only one small component of the many variegated colors Ms. Oropesa brings to her role.
Ms. Oropesa possesses a thrilling soprano voice of infinite variety and an ethereal purity of tone. Her opening duet with the Sergeant Sulpice (the very solid Bass of Kevin Burdette) is an engaging delight as their mutual happiness at seeing each other is conveyed (Duet: “Mais, qui vient? Tiens, Marie, notre fil/”But who is this? Well, well if it isn’t our daughter Marie”). Throughout the opera, Ms. Oropesa and Mr. Burdette interact with warm élan.
Oropesa’s soaring and sensitive Soprano come to the fore immediately with the initial regimental song that exudes the character’s charismatic affection for the camaraderie of her fellow army “fathers”(Aria: Chacun le sait. Chacun le dit /” Everyone knows it, everyone says it”.) The joy that this character feels, while exhibiting her nationalistic pride, is pervasive throughout the opera.
Marie is in love with Tonio (the brilliant tenor Lawrence Brownlee) and their arias together are beautiful to hear. As Mr. Brownlee’s Tonio proclaims his love for Ms. Oropesa’s Marie, the yearning and pacing in his lustrous tenor tones were thrilling to the ear (Aria, then love duet with Marie: Depuis l’instant ou, dans mes bras/“Ever since that moment when you fell and/I caught you, all trembling in my arms …..”).
Mr. Bronwlee’s unerring control of two arias, in particular, were greeted with sustained applause and “bravos” after each delivery.
Mr. Brownlee’s delivery of the famous Aria “Ah! mes amis, quell jour de fete”/”Ah, my friends, what an exciting day”) was performed with exquisite pacing, nuance and vocal control. This demanding aria has often been referred to as the “Mount Everest” for tenors as it features nine high C’s and it comes very early in the opera.
Mr. Brownlee also triumphed as he fights for Marie’s hand (over the protestations of Mezzo–Soprano Deborah Nansteel’s delightfully imperious portrayal of the Marquise of Berkenfield) by proclaiming his undying love for Oropesa’s Marie in the stirring and pathos –filled Aria of fervent love (Aria, Tonio:Pour me rapprocher de Marie, Je me enrolai, pauvre soldat/”In order to woo Marie, I enlisted in the ranks”.)
As Act Two of the opera develops, shades of Pygmalion arise as the character of Marie is trained to be an elegant lady by the Marquise -who wishes to marry her off to the son of the Duchess of Krakenthorp.
The lustrous Soprano of Ms. Oropeso enchants as she sings of her frustration (Aria: Par le rang et par l’opulence/”They have tried in vain to dazzle me”).
The grief of Marie turns to joy as the whole regiment comes to cheer her up including her lover Tonio. The trio of Marie, Sulpice, and Tonio are specifically highlighted in a charmingly choreographed operatic moment of vocal dexterity and intricacy (Trio: Marie, Sulpice, Tonio: Tous les trios reunis/ “We three are reunited”).
An amusing and grateful homage to a Washington, DC legend occurred in the small but very significant non-singing role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp —-as the part was assayed on opening night by the beloved Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg is a well-known opera aficionado and her lines were “tailor-made” for her iconoclastic and liberal persona. Justice Ginsburg was greeted with grateful affection and sustained applause.
The finale of the opera was a rousing celebratory anthem of personal love reunited aligned with exultant National pride and exultation (Final Chorus: Salut a la France! /Hurrah for France! For Happy Times!”)
The Scenic Design by James Noone is exceptional. The rear wall of the set is inset with a deeply recessed oval shape that adds dimension to the scenic design of both Acts of the opera and is akin to peering into a Faberge Easter egg. In Act One, a stirring inset of the Tyrolean Alps Mountain Region was flanked by striking pine trees. In Act Two, the Grand Staircase of the Marquis’ Mansion was offset by deep, lustrous blue and stately columns on each side. Costumes by Zack Brown add immeasurably to the atmosphere of the Opera.
Do not miss Washington National Opera’s superb operatic production of The Daughter of the Regiment!
Running Time: Two hours and 15-minutes, with one 25-minute intermission.
The Daughter of the Regiment plays through November 20, 2016, at Washington National Opera, performing at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.