Chicago Opera Review: THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT (Lyric Opera)

Post image for Chicago Opera Review: THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT (Lyric Opera)

by Barnaby Hughes on November 14, 2023

in Music,Theater-Chicago


It is hard to go wrong with Lawrence Brownlee: his sensuous and soaring tenor, knack for comedy, winsome smile and infectious energy warm every production he appears in. This Lyric production of Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment (La Fille du Régiment) is no exception. Alongside Brownlee is the equally entertaining and dynamic Lisette Oropesa in her Lyric debut as the titular lead. To this, add Laurent Pelly as original director and costume designer and the young female conductor Speranza Scapucci and you have the makings of a superb production that cannot be recommended highly enough.

Lawrence Brownlee as Tonio, Lisette Oropesa as Marie, Alessandro Corbelli as Sulpice
(Andrew Cioffi)

Though there are only three years separating the first performances of these operas, Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment (1840) and Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman (1843) could hardly be more different. While the latter is serious, brooding and mythical, the former is a light-hearted and laugh-out-loud romance full of patriotic music. Donizetti writes firmly in the bel canto style, while Wagner is already pioneering his own style using leitmotifs, bold harmonies and an expanded orchestra. Wagner, moreover, wrote his own German libretto, while Donizetti used a French one. (This production uses the original French version rather than the later Italian adaptation).

Lisette Oropesa as Marie and company (Michael Brosilow)

One does not have to be familiar with the history of the Napoleonic Wars to enjoy The Daughter of the Regiment, but such familiarity helps put the plot into context. The setting is Tyrol, a region now divided between Italy and Austria. In the early nineteenth century, however, the region was entirely part of Austria except for its brief control by the French. Donizetti’s opera centers on Marie, a young Tyrolean girl raised by a French regiment under Sergeant Sulpice. Despite promising to marry one of its soldiers, Marie falls in love with the young Tyrolean peasant, Tonio, who saves her life. Then the Marquise of Berkenfield claims to be Marie’s aunt, takes her away from the regiment (and Tonio, who enlisted in it) and tries to marry her to the Duke of Crakenthorp. In the end, the Marquise admits that she is Marie’s mother and consents for her to marry Tonio.

Lawrence Brownlee as Tonio (Michael Brosilow)

Oropesa plays Marie almost as if it were a trouser role. In the first act, she does wear men’s clothes: the uniform of the regiment, though without the jacket. And even in the second act when she’s wearing a dress, she still moves boyishly. Birdlike in clarity and nimbleness, her coloratura soprano sings arias like “Chacun le sait” as if it were the most natural and easy thing to do. Brownlee sings similarly, hitting all nine high C’s pitch-perfectly in the renowned aria “Pour mon âme.” But Brownlee is not all high notes; he shows off his voice’s gorgeous tone and lyricism in “Ah, mes amis, quel jour de fête.” A brilliant comic actor-singer like Brownlee and Oropesa, Italian baritone Alessandro Corbelli plays Sgt Sulpice with the facility of experience. In his tenth role at Lyric, Corbelli shows no signs of slowing down.

Ron Dukes as the Corporal, Lawrence Brownlee as Tonio, and the Company

As The Daughter of the Regiment includes plenty of spoken dialogue in place of sung recitative, the actors have been given some liberty to translate the French for comic effect. Thus, the Duchess of Crakenthorp, played by Joy Hermalyn, switches to English for some of her most witty lines, especially in the silly scene at the beginning of Act Two. Similarly, when Oropesa mutters sotto voce in Act One, she switches to Spanish, which is difficult to catch without fluency in the language. 

Joy Hermalyn as the Duchess of Crakentorp and Ronnita Miller as the Marquise
(Lyric Opera)

Chantal Thomas’s set designs enliven this production with their whimsy. She creates mountains out of maps in Act One and windows out of picture frames and doors out of fireplaces in Act Two. Pelly’s costume designs do not appear particularly period accurate or particularly beautiful, but they are in keeping with the comic bent of the production. Sarah Hatten’s wig designs, however, are getting repetitive as she so often adorns her lead actresses with red hair, as she does Marie in this production and Senta in The Flying Dutchman

The Company (Michael Brosilow)

In The Daughter of the Regiment Donizetti shows himself to be a master of comic opera, even in the more French style. Though his justly popular The Elixir of Love has been performed often at Lyric, this is only the company’s second production of The Daughter of the Regiment, which deserves a more settled place in the operatic canon. But why take this reviewer’s word for it? Go see for yourself!

The Daughter of the Regiment
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive
ends on November 25, 2023
for tickets, call 312.332.2244 or visit Lyric Opera

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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