- The Washington Times - Friday, December 4, 2009

The Virginia Opera’s new production of Gaetano Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment” (“The Daughter of the Regiment”) is a charming way to ease into this hectic holiday season.

This reviewer caught the final performance on Sunday in Richmond, and the production concludes its run this Friday and Sunday at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts.

Although the native Italian Donizetti is best known for his Italian operas, his popular 1840 “La Fille du Regiment” was composed in Paris to a French libretto.

“La Fille” is a young woman named Marie, a foundling adopted as an infant by the 21st French Regiment. She’s now their collective daughter, or “vivandiere” — a woman who hangs out with a regiment serving as their mascot but also as a nurse, confidante and cook.

Marie turns out to have royal blood. This stymies her wedding plans involving a Tyrolean peasant ,Tonio, leading to a series of comic complications.

With sets by popular stage designer Erhard Rom, the Virginia Opera’s crisp, colorful production really pops onstage, projecting great energy and boundless good humor. The company chose to use the original French version of the opera, which contains spoken dialogue. Fortuitously, the cast’s French diction was impeccable, largely understandable even in the nosebleed seats of Richmond’s immense Carpenter Theatre.

The cast and chorus performed with great confidence, as did the orchestra under the baton of Joseph Walsh, making this one of the company’s stronger performances to date.

Although I am not always fond of soprano Manon Strauss Evrard’s somewhat chirpy vibrato, it seemed to work well here in the tomboy role of Marie. Her coloratura abilities carried the show along at a breakneck pace, and her Pippi Longstocking braids were an amusing touch.

Also quite agreeable was the performance of bass Todd Robinson as Marie’s chief “dad,” Sergeant Sulpice. His buffo approach to this broadly comic role worked well.

As Tonio, Marie’s hapless hero, young tenor Gennard Lombardozzi still has room to grow. His sweet, lyric voice tends to stay more in the head than in the chest, losing some ability to project to the most distant seats. However, he knows what he’s doing and nails the famously challenging high C’s in Tonio’s signature Act I double aria.

In smaller but crucial parts, mezzos Josepha Gayer and Jenni Harrison displayed real comic genius in the primarily spoken roles of the Marquise of Berkenfeld and the Duchess of Krakenthorp respectively.

A word about the Carpenter Theatre, a brilliantly restored Loews movie palace that’s part of Richmond’s Center Stage complex. Just reopened this fall, its twinkling, starry dome, Italian-Moroccan outrageousness and superb acoustics provide the most brilliant space in the region for re-creating the spirit of 19th-century opera.

★★½
WHAT: The Virginia Opera presents Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment” (“The Daughter of the Regiment”)
WHERE: The George Mason University Center for the Arts, Fairfax City
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS: $44 to $98
INFORMATION: 888/945-2468
WEB SITE: www.gmu.edu/cfa.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS