- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

In recent years, smaller companies like the Washington Concert Opera have steadied their financial footing and improved the quality and quantity of their offerings. And now, it’s even possible for entirely new organizations to pop up and find a niche in D.C.’s operatic firmament.

A case in point is a new, small company called Bel Cantanti. Riffing on the Italian term for beautiful singing, Bel Cantanti, founded in 2003 and helmed by General and Artistic Director Katerina Souvorova, offers fully-costumed operas featuring young, up-and-coming singers in local venues backed by budget scenery and small instrumental ensembles. Its latest effort, Gaetano Donizetti’s charming “La Fille du Regiment” (“The Daughter of the Regiment”) is both a pleasant surprise and an affordable opportunity for suburban audiences to become better acquainted with one of opera’s most user-friendly tunefests.

Although Donizetti is best known for his Italian operas, his popular “La Fille du Regiment” was composed in Paris to a French libretto. Light, frothy, and amusing, it prefigures similar entertainments cranked out in ensuing decades by Johann Strauss the younger, Jacques Offenbach and others — works eventually dubbed “operetta.”

“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 mascot who also at times serves as nurse, confidante and cook. She might even take up a rifle now and then. Marie turns out to have royal blood, which complicates her intention to marry a young peasant she’s fallen in love with during a tour of Switzerland. But things all work out, providing plenty of excuses for patriotic choruses and dazzling, show-off arias.

Backed by an able mixed chorus and a string quartet with an added French horn, military percussion, and Miss Souvorova on piano, Bel Cantanti’s rotating cast gave a rousing performance of this classic during their opening weekend. (The lead roles of Marie, Tonio, and the Marquise are sung by different singers on different evenings.)

During Sunday’s performance at Bethesda’s Christ Lutheran Church, soprano Elizabeth Kluegel starred as Marie and did a standout job. Obviously having a good time chumming around with the boys, she showed a remarkably supple coloratura instrument, capable of navigating Donizetti’s numerous high-note challenges without apparent strain.

The evening’s hero, Tonio (sung by tenor Aurelio Dominguez), had a fine voice, although it lacked refinement when he sang at full volume in his upper range. Nonetheless, he negotiated his ornamentation nicely.

In smaller roles, mezzo Andrea Hill (Marquise of Berkenfield) and baritone Matthew Osifchin were funny and charming, and the accompanying ensemble was highly professional and well-suited to the opera’s light texture — save for some unfortunate excursions early on by the French horn.

Bel Cantanti’s “La Fille” is an absolute delight, an enjoyable evening for opera aficionados and the perfect opportunity for timid newbies to be surprised at just how much fun light opera can be.

**

WHO: Bel Cantanti Opera

WHAT: Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment”

WHERE:Various venues and performance dates

WHEN:Sept. 23 through Oct.2

TICKETS:Tickets $20 (student) and $30 available via the Web site (www.belcantanti.com) or at the door.

PHONE: 301/438-8682

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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