After opening with a not-so-flying Dutchman, Lyric Opera of Chicago has rebounded with a grand and glorious November. Just last Sunday I enjoyed the harrowing, moving production of Janacek’s Jenufa with the voices of Lise Davidsen and Nina Stemme soaring into the audience. Then on Thursday afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending an opera with a polar opposite theme: a rip-roaring, delightful, funny, and charming production of Donizetti’s comic wonder The Daughter of the Regiment (La Fille du Regiment). I’ve never had a better time in an opera house.
The production, originally directed by Laurent Pelly and here by revival director Christian Rath, is a marvel. The appropriate sets by Chantal Thomas, Pelly’s colorful costumes (mostly for the women since most of the men are in uniform), and Joel Adam’s bright and cheery lighting form a cohesive unit that supports and enhances the action and the comic business. The production is also enlivened by a troop of fine dancers performing the detailed, precision choreography (originally by Laura Scozzi, revival choreographer Karien Girard). Even the Lyric Opera chorus throws itself into the dancing with delightful results.
The Daughter of the Regiment introduces us to Marie, who was adopted as a foundling infant by a regiment of French soldiers who serve as her many “fathers.” We meet her as a young woman doing the soldier’s laundry and serving as their canteen. She has fallen in love with a Tyrolean peasant, Tonio, but the regiment wants nothing to do with their romance, insisting that Marie has promised to marry only one of the regiment. At the end of Act One, the wealthy Marquise of Berkenfeld stumbles upon them, and insists that she is Marie’s long-lost aunt. She takes the weeping Marie away to her chateau, intending to make her into more of a lady. As act two begins, a miserable Marie is to be married to Duke Scipio of Krankenthorp. Suddenly, the regiment rushes in to save her, accompanied by Tonio who has enlisted (also accompanied in this production by a tank!!!). We soon learn that Marie is actually the Marquise’s daughter. At length, the Marquise gives Marie permission to marry Tonio, and, as in says in the program synopsis, “Everyone celebrates.”
Pelly has directed with real comic flare, always keeping the action moving forward with a fast pace. The singing actors in this production all seem to have agreed on a performance style that presents heartfelt comedy without veering into silliness or farce. The result is streams of laughter from the audience. In addition to the principals, the Lyric Opera men’s and women’s choruses contribute mightily to the merry-making, singing and dancing with precision and verve.
In a thrilling Lyric Opera debut, Lisette Oropesa is utterly charming as Marie. Her Marie is impish and alternately feisty and heart-wrenchingly vulnerable. Her shimmering, liquid silver soprano fills the house with clear tone, Donizetti’s arching phrases and high notes hold no fear for her. The audience loved watching her change from tomboy to growing maturity as her love for Tonio grows. She’s also has excellent comic timing in both her singing and acting. There was a lovely innocence about her performance, which was equaled in her partner, Lyric favorite Lawrence Brownlee as Tonio.
There was crackling good chemistry between the two, and he, too, gives a vulnerable, touching performance. His honeyed tenor was resplendent throughout, earning a well-deserved “bis” for the remarkable multiple high-C section of his aria “Ah! Mes amis…” His singing was beautiful and movingly romantic throughout and his comic talent was first-rate.
Baritone Alessandro Corbelli infused Sulpice with a genuine fatherly care for Marie. Alternately gruff and lovable, he gave an amusing buffo performance, especially so when he realized that the Marquise’s interest in him was more than platonic. Ronnita Miller was delightful as the flustered Marquise. Joy Hermalyn has a fine comic turn as the uptight Duchess of Krakentrorp and special mention goes to Ryan Opera Center member Ron Dukes, who uses his deep, full voice to strong effect as the Corporal.
Conductor Speranza Scappucci was an animated presence on the podium, and she led the Lyric Opera Orchestra in a stirring reading of Donizetti’s score, never letting the energy flag.
The Lyric Opera Chorus under Michael Black provided another excellent, precise performance, and threw itself into the singing and movement with aplomb.
Photos: Lyric Opera of Chicago