Nobody goes to “The Daughter of the Regiment” for the plot and the libretto. Both are charmingly preposterous. Instead, you go to hear glorious voices navigating Donizetti’s dizzying bel canto arias. You go for the thrill of the “High Cs” tenor aria (“Ah, mes amis,” which has nine of those Cs), and the even more stratospheric notes assigned to the soprano.
And, if you’re lucky, you go to see and hear the exquisitely hilarious nuances of a singing actress who has been commanding the stage for the past 43 years: mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle, as the richly comic Marquise of Berkenfield. Topping it all off, in Seattle Opera’s current production that opened this past weekend, is a chance to experience Peter Kazaras, who has been a tenor and director, with the company, in drag as the snobby Duchesse de Krackenthorp.
“The Daughter of the Regiment” is like a gust of Champagne bubbles in the wake of last summer’s ultraserious Wagnerian “Ring”: short, sweet, light and fast-moving. Conductor Yves Abel gives his singers and his responsive orchestra plenty of lyrical scope and freedom, while never losing the forward momentum of the score.
The two opening-night stars, tenor Lawrence Brownlee and soprano Sarah Coburn, cast the best possible light on Seattle Opera’s Young Artists program (both are alums). It would be hard to find two singers anywhere who could do more credit to these roles. Brownlee, at the international top of his form, sings his highflying arias with an ease, purity and polish that could hardly be bettered. He is thoroughly at home as the lovestruck Tonio, who joins the regiment to woo its adorable mascot Marie (Coburn, whose coloratura voice has gotten bigger but has lost none of its lovely agility). Both singers are vital, winning actors and fun to watch; the opera’s two acts seem to fly right by.
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On Sunday, the only cast change was the arrival of tenor Andrew Stenson as Tonio. Another former Young Artist, Stenson is an adroit performer who seems born to sing this music; his Tonio has a lot of finesse.
The supporting cast makes substantial contributions to this comic show, particularly Alexander Hajek’s lively and compassionate Sulpice, with Karl Marx Reyes (as Hortensius) and Stephen Fish (Corporal). The male choristers (bravo to chorusmaster John Keene), as the Regiment of the title, have a lot to do, and in Emilio Sagi’s cleverly comic staging, they dash about the serviceable Julio Galán sets with the élan of a corps de ballet. The audience roared during the wedding-party scene, when the arriving guests were introduced as nobility hailing from Medina, Puyallup, Hoquiam … even Humptulips. (There also was a pair announced as “Mademoiselles Hunts-Point.”)
Kazaras’ star turn as the haughty and bibulous Duchesse, attired in a frothy confection and spinning off the “drunk aria” from “La Perichole,” must be seen (and heard) to be believed. And some of the exuberant supernumeraries at the Marquise’s château are having so much fun that you long to rush the stage and join the party.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.