Review: THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT at Washington National Opera

By: Nov. 14, 2016
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The Washington National Opera has made this review a piece of cake. THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT is a popular French language comedic opera (opéra comique) in two acts by Geatano Donizetti with a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard. As far as operas go, it is trés short, roughly an hour shorter than WNO's last offering, Mozart's THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO.

Debuted in 1840, THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT is surprisingly formulaic despite its quirky title. Marie (Lisette Oropesa, THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO'S triumphant Susanna) is the adopted daughter of the Twenty-First Regiment of the French army and the vivandière or "canteen girl" of the regiment.

Marie shakes things up when she reveals her love for a Tyrolean named Tonio (Lawrence Brownlee). For the love of Marie, Tonio enlists in the regiment. Just as everything is working out for Marie and Tonio, she is snatched away by her claimant-aunt, the Marquise of Berkenfield (Deborah Nansteel).

In the second act Marie struggles to shed her regimental upbringing and don the mantel of a genteel young lady. Oropesa's Marie, decked out in a white tulle tutu, undertakes a farcical onstage voice lesson; evoking the ghosts of my own unsuccessful voice lessons past. A rival for Marie's love, nominated by the Duchess of Krakenthorpe (Justice Ginsburg), threatens to tear the young lovers apart. I don't want to spoil the ending for you, after all the opera is only 160+ years old, but a plot twist ensures that Marie, her Tonio and her fathers are happily reunited.

The major theme of the opera, the dichotomy of the feminine and masculine, is embodied in the person of Marie. Wistfully, she refers to the sweet drumbeats and cannons of her childhood. Donizetti's score alternates between masculine and feminine motifs. Costume Designer Zack Brown and Hair and Makeup Designer Anne Ford-Coates for Elsen Associates reinforce this dynamic, debuting a Marie with a "boyish" haircut and a beautiful faux skirt pants costume worthy of Downton Abbey's precocious Lady Sybil.

Despite it's highly visible ensemble of cheery papas, THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT is really a showcase for its two stars, Oropesa and Brownlee. The role of Marie is a coloratura soprano's dream and Oropesa makes the role look super fun and easy despite being the busiest presence onstage. Oropesa demonstrates impressive vocal control and agility. Possessed of a bright smile and prolific comedic talent, she is the highlight of the opera.

The premiere of THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT by the Opéra-Comique in Paris was less than stellar for one reason: the aria "Ah! Mes amis, quell jour de fête!" which requires the successful execution of nine high Cs by the tenor playing Tonio. Brownlee delivered Saturday night, effortlessly producing those nine high Cs to the tune of hearty "bravos!" and audible sighs of appreciation.

In general, THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT lacks the daring romance and dazzling, memorable arias of an opera like THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO or WNO's season closer MADAME BUTTERFLY. Like the beat of a regimental drum, the score of THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT tends towards the repetitive. In WNO fashion, the beginning of the opera is marked by timid vocals and a lack of oomph, as my dad would say. Happily, the appearance of the irreverent father-daughter duo Marie and Sergeant Sulpice (WNO newcomer and blessedly bombastic Kevin Burdette) invigorates the entire production.

THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT is directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom with set design by James Noon and lighting design by Mark McCullough. WNO continues their streak of debuting young conductors with the debut of the super in demand Christopher Allen.

After a week of combative politics in DC, Justice Ginsburg, otherwise known as "the Norotious RBG," made her WNO debut as the Duchess of Krakenthorp, a role that is traditionally reserved for a celebrity guest. Resplendent in a green satin dress, Justice Ginsburg was lauded for a full ninety seconds before uttering a single word. Speaking in authoritative English, Justice Ginsburg, a.k.a the Duchess of Krakenthorp, extolled the love of opera, cracked a thinly veiled joke about birth certificates and informed us that "The best of the House of Krakenthorp have open but not empty minds. The best are willing to listen and learn." In the days to come let's say we all try to be a bit more "Krakenthorpian."

THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT runs through November 20, 2016 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Opera House at 2700 F St. NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets call (202) 467-4600 or click here.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 25-minute intermission

Photo Credit: Lisette Oropesa as Marie and the company of THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rehearses her first scene with director Robert Longbottom. Photos by Scott Suchman for WNO.


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