- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

After March 24’s brilliant, industrial-strength opening of Richard Wagner’s “Die Walkure,” the Washington National Opera’s audience needed a chance to relax with something light and bright. The company’s production of Gaetano Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment,” which opened at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Saturday, certainly fits the bill.

An irresistible bit of comic froth, the opera opened in Paris at the Opera Comique in 1840 and has remained popular to this day.

Highly anticipatory of both operetta and the Broadway musical, “La Fille du Regiment” (“The Daughter of the Regiment”) boasts the usual illogical plot trajectory that’s thin enough to strain credulity but amusing enough not to let that matter too much.

The youthful Marie is indeed the “daughter of the regiment,” an abandoned child adopted by a roving regiment of French soldiers battling in the area of Switzerland, probably somewhere between 1805 and 1830. (Donizetti is never clear.) She falls in love with Tonio, a local who joins the regiment to stay with her. The usual complications ensue as the haughty marquise claims her as her niece, throwing everyone’s plans into confusion.

This production has been updated cleverly by transforming the townspeople into Frenchmen, the soldiers into Yanks and the setting to somewhere in France near the end of World War II. The plotline is still strained, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

Well-regarded soprano Stefania Bonfadelli was scheduled to sing the title role of Marie throughout most of this production’s run, but she was indisposed on opening night. Her replacement, JiYoung Lee, scheduled to sing the last performance, proved a happy choice. The company’s general director, Placido Domingo, announcing the change before the opening curtain, noted that Miss Lee, a recent alumna of WNO’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist program, was thus herself a “daughter” of their regiment and a fine singer as well.

Mr. Domingo was right. Miss Lee proved a delight, unveiling a bright, exuberantly youthful voice that trilled effortlessly through the composer’s most challenging passages. Her considerable skills as a comic actress made the evening sparkle with added gaiety. Miss Bonfadelli presumably will return to sing most of the remaining performances, but audiences will not be disappointed if they draw the charming Miss Lee.

As the ardent Tonio, tenor Jose Bros proved an operatic rarity — a lithe, bell-clear bel canto tenor with surprisingly powerful lungs. He sang brilliantly all evening, including “Ah, mes amis,” Tonio’s signature aria, which boasts a total of nine high Cs. Mr. Bros nailed all of them cleanly, although his last showed just a bit of strain.

Kudos to the rest of the cast as well, particularly bass-baritone Simone Alberghini (Sulpice), whose splendid instrument gave welcome ballast to the ensembles, and mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood, whose Margaret Dumont-style histrionics and huge voice endowed the marquise with great authority spiced with a dash of impetuosity.

Just one complaint: Conductor Riccardo Frizza and the chorus need to synchronize their tempos in Donizetti’s rapid-fire patter songs. There are a considerable number of these moments, particularly in the first act, and they sounded as if they needed another rehearsal to make them right.

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WHO: Washington National Opera

WHAT: Gaetano Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment”

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

WHEN: April 2 and 7 at 7 p.m.; April 4, 10 and 12 at 7:30 p.m.; April 15 at 2 p.m.

TICKETS: $45 to $300

INFORMATION: Call 202-295-2400 or visit https://www.dc-opera.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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