Review: Heavyweight singing anchors Pittsburgh Opera's 'Daughter of the Regiment'

By Elizabeth Bloom / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Between an abandoned baby, a military invasion and an aristocracy with outsize influence, “Daughter of the Regiment” deals with some serious subjects. But the Donizetti opera manages to stay clear of gravitas, poking fun at some of the topics that weigh the rest of us down.

The Pittsburgh Opera production of “Daughter,” which opened Saturday at the Benedum Center, was heavy on the light. The English translation of the dialogue-rich French libretto gave it as much the feeling of musical theater as opera. At the same time, the thoughtfully-staged production hinged on some heavyweight singing.

While “Daughter” has become a standard of the bel canto repertory, it is getting just its third production by Pittsburgh Opera, most recently done in 1986. The story follows Marie, a feisty vivandiere who was adopted by a French regiment as a baby. When the army arrives at a Tyrolean village, Marie begins a romance with Tonio, but her rich aunt, the Marquise of Berkenfeld, decides to whisk Marie away and set her up with a fancier husband.

“Daughter of the Regiment”

Where: Pittsburgh Opera at Benedum Center, Downtown.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday; 7:30 p.m. Fri.; 2 p.m. May 10.

Tickets: $12.75-$155.75, 412-456-6666 or www.pittsburghopera.org.

The performance featured the company debut of Lawrence Brownlee, one of the best light lyric tenors singing today. His voice had the gleaming, regal quality of a trumpet and a vibrato as smooth and elegant as a violin trill. While the showpiece “Ah mes amis” includes nine high C’s, the translation by Ruth and Thomas Martin forced him to add a couple at the end – without a problem. One hopes he will return to Pittsburgh soon, ideally for an opera sung in its original language.

Soprano Lisette Oropesa returned to Pittsburgh Opera for her first performances of the title role. She made for a humorous, charming Marie, and, while not the most nimble, her dulcet voice showed shimmers of brilliance in high notes and trills. Her unceasing energy in the role’s dramatic and vocal acrobatics explained her impressive plans to run the Pittsburgh Marathon mere hours after the curtain dropped.

The Sulpice of basso buffo Kevin Glavin, a local favorite, was an ideal merger of vocal depth and comic lightness. As the Marquise, mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle had a dry voice but was critical to some of the opera’s funnier moments, as was her sidekick, Hortensius (resident artist Phillip Gay).

The production took some liberties with the plot, most notably with the role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp, played by WQED-FM host Anna Singer. The Pittsburgh-centric references were cute, although the cameo became over-the-top with an underwhelming rendition of a Noel Coward classic.

Despite some excesses – and movement for movement’s sake – Sean Curran’s stage direction and choreography, which featured dancers from Attack Theatre, were a highlight of the production. The physical humor and constant visual activity balanced out the one-dimensional (literally and figuratively) set designed by James Schuette. The chorus captured the congeniality of the French regiment, and the orchestra, conducted by music director Antony Walker, shifted between militaristic precision and tender artistry.

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