Some readers may remember the 11-year-old who wrote two opera reviews for the Washington Post a couple of years ago. In the same spirit of letting younger opera fans be heard from, I am introducing Harry Rose, 18, known to his many readers and Twitter followers as Opera Teen. Rose also fell in love with opera when he was 11, started blogging about it, and has since written for parterre.com, been profiled in the Christian Science Monitor, and seen his blog picked up by the Huffington Post. This fall, he matriculated at Georgetown University, much to the benefit of Washington music lovers. You can read his coverage of the Washington National Opera’s season opener, “The Marriage of Figaro,” on his blog; here, he gives his views on the second cast of “The Daughter of the Regiment,” which I reviewed with the first cast on opening night.
by Harry Rose
In all the frenzy associated with making opera palatable to the younger generations, comic opera seems to be often overlooked. What aspects of a performance can make an increasingly cynical younger set overlook the typical farce and slapstick and engage with the story beyond a polite chuckle? Well, as Thursday night’s Daughter of the Regiment at Washington National Opera revealed, sometimes all it takes is a change of cast.
Andrew Stenson and Andriana Chuchman, the Tonio and Marie that are alternating with the “starrier” (yet not ideally cast) Lawrence Brownlee and Lisette Oropesa, bring an earnest, infectious enthusiasm and significant voices to match. Singing with confidence and acting with a lighthearted sincerity, the pair lit up an audience peppered with young people and elevated Saturday’s middling first performance to not only a strong case for the opera itself, but a strong case for recruiting young, fresh-faced singers to perform it.
The plot of Gaetano Donizetti’s 1840 opera is trite, but the music is some of his most gorgeous and evocative. In the midst of the Napoleonic wars, the brassy Marie serves as the canteen girl for the 21st Regiment who has cared for her since infancy. But when Marie’s noble parentage is revealed, she is spirited away from her adoptive fathers and the Tyrolean Tonio, her true love. In the end, only high jinks in an upper-crust chateau can bring the two lovers together again with a blessing from Marie’s long-lost mother, the Marquise de Berkenfeld. Donizetti’s music impeccably matches the settings throughout the opera, spanning from the Alpine-esque horn solo that starts the overture to the militaristic ebullience of the Regiment and the hoity-toity majesty of the Marquise’s castle. These atmospheres were all communicated with elegant sweep by Maestro Christopher Allen, though there was some occasional discord between sections of the WNO Orchestra and the singers.
Chuchman, last seen at WNO as Showboat’s Magnolia in 2013, brought a voice of veiled luster as Marie. Sounding seemingly unfettered to a central core, she delivered high-flying technical capabilities to her singing across the range, hyper-focused high notes, and a tomboyish charm to her acting. She was well-matched by Stenson’s Tonio. Though his voice lacks the lushness and resonance that Donizetti’s Italianate music lends itself to, he compensated with an endearing characterization and stylish negotiation of the French text that suggests that his clean, forward-placed tenor might find a welcome home in French repertoire.
Singing with a firmly-supported bass and commitment to the slapstick elements of the production, Kevin Burdette made a strapping Sulpice. His counterpart, the Marquise de Berkenfeld, was played by the sympathetic Deborah Nansteel whose unruly middle register and imperfect French was overpowered only by the relentless swooning and primping she was directed to do. As the Duchess of Krakenthorp, the matriarch of the family that the Marquise is eyeing for Marie, Cindy Gold did an admirable job recycling the English text written for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who performed the role on opening night, though Gold’s delivery understandably lacked the delicious political tinge it had coming from Justice Ginsburg.
Robert Longbottom’s production is straightforward, housed in attractive and minimalistic sets by James Noone, but heavily reliant on singers to electrify it. His choreography, though, leaves something to be desired, as it recalls more of an amateur recreation of what Jerome Robbins devised for “Wherever We Go” from Gypsy rather than any type of spontaneous behavior. The WNO chorus sang with laudable unity and surprisingly idiomatic French.
Audiences can catch this cast on November 19th and see performances featuring Brownlee and Oropesa on the 18th and 20th.