Review: Oropesa, Brownlee, Burdette in Rollicking Washington National Opera “Fille du Régiment”, November 18, 2016

The Washington National Opera mounted Donizetti’s witty “La Fille du Régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment)”.  Staged by Robert Longbottom, with sets by James Noone and costumes by Zack Brown, the production married the talents of members of Broadway musical theater’s elite with the comic virtuosity of American opera stars.

Lisette Oropesa’s Marie

The title role of Marie, the regimental “daughter”, proved a winsome vehicle for Louisiana lyric coloratura soprano Lisette Oropesa. The role of Marie encompasses both light-hearted coloratura fireworks and highly emotional legato passages. Oropesa navigated the challenging role brilliantly.

[Below: Lisette Oropesa as Marie; edited image, based on a Scott Suchmann photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]


Oropesa’s second act aria Par le rang et par l’opulence was one of the many high points of her performance. That aria, whose descending melodies seem to foreshadow later masterpieces of Giuseppe Verdi, the younger composer whom Donizetti mentored, was performed with exquisite sensibility and style.

I have reported on Oropesa’s impressive performances in operas by composers whose styles are as diverse as Handel, Mozart and Catan. Her Marie makes me want to see her in more of the major lyric coloratura roles of the 19th century French and Italian romantic era.

Lawrence Brownlee’s Tonio

Lyric tenor Lawrence Brownlee was an engaging Tonio. His blockbuster aria (or, more precisely, series of consecutive arias) Oh mes amis! ends spectacularly with four pairs of sung octaves and a final high note, accounting for nine high C’s.

Brownlee sang the bravura aria flawlessly, winning the biggest ovation of the evening. His second act ballad, Pour me rapprocher de Marie, was warmly received also.

[Below: Lawrence Brownlee as Tonio; edited image, based on a Scott Suchmann photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]


Brownlee’s vocal background is in gospel music. That genre’s melismatic vocal technique (in which several notes sung to a single syllable) proved to be excellent preparation for the operas composed the bel canto composer Gioacchino Rossini [see Rossini Royalty – An Interview with Lawrence Brownlee].

Although the vocal style of Rossini’s contemporary Gaetano Donizetti differs in important ways from Rossini’s, Brownlee shows mastery as well of Donizetti’s music for the lyric tenor. (My report on Brownlee’s Tonio follows one last month on his Ernesto [Review: Maurizio Muraro Leads An Appealing “Don Pasquale” Cast – San Francisco Opera, October 2, 2016].)

Kevin Burdette’s Sulpice and Deborah Nansteel’s Marquise de Berkenfeld

Bass-baritone Kevin Burdette is not only an accomplished artist in the tongue-twisting patter of Italian and French comic opera, but unlike many buffo artists has the athleticism and physical appearance to play a plausibly romantic character [see Buff Buffo: An Interview with Kevin Burdette.]

As the 21st regiment’s leader, Sulpice, Burdette is in his element – hilarious in his interactions with his “daughter” Marie, then, at opera’s end, entering a promising liaison with the lonely Marquise.

[Below: Sergeant Sulpice (Kevin Burdette, right) comes to find a kindred spirit in the Marquise de Berkenfeld (Deborah Nansteel, left); edited image, based on a Scott Suchmann photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]


I previously had reported on Deborah Nansteel in various character and comprimario roles at the Santa Fe Opera and Glimmerglass Festivals, including the important role of Nettie Fowler in Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” [Review: Ryan McKinny Stars in Affectionately Mounted “Carousel” – Glimmerglass Festival, July 18, 2014].

Nansteel was an engaging Marquise, rather more subdued and even-tempered than the role is sometimes played, making her a more sympathetic character throughout the opera, instead of just in its final moments.

Notes on the production

Robert Longbottom’s direction was fast-paced and original. (The second act attempt by the Marquise to transform Marie from her roughhouse army spirits to well-behaved nobility turned into a very funny war of wills between Marie and her dancing master.)

Washington National Opera’s artistic director, Francesca Zambello, had previously enlisted Broadway designer James Noone to create sets for her 2015 Glimmerglass Festival production of Bernstein’s “Candide” (set to tour the French cities of Toulouse and Bordeaux this winter).

For “Fille” Noone created a basic set with a large oval opening at the back that suggested the Austrian Tyrol region for the first act and the interior of the Berkenfeld chateau for the second.

[Below: Marie (Lisette Oropesa, center) is delighted that the men of the 21st regiment have come to her aid at the Chateau Berkenfeld; edited image, based on a Scott Suchmann photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]

Daughter of the Regiment

The brilliant costumes were by Zack Brown, with the French soldiers dressed in uniforms that are an homage to the tricolor flag, with Tonio in his early appearances clad in Tyrollean togs.

[Below: Tonio (Lawrence Brownlee, center, in Tyrolean dress) tries to convince the members of the 21st regiment that he is the right person to marry Marie; edited image, based on a Scott Suchmann photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]


Final Comments

I’ve written a lot about the theatricality of Donizetti’s operas, including his romantic comedies. (See 21st Century Love for Donizetti’s “Elixir” and From the “Barber of Seville” to “Don Pasquale” and Gaetano Donizetti: European Romanticism and The Pathway to Verdi.)

It was fascinating to see his three most famous comedies performed in a seven week period by major casts at San Francisco Opera (Don Pasquale), at Houston Grand Opera (L’Elisir d’Amore) and at Washington National Opera (Daughter of the Regiment).

[Below: Their troubles behind them, Marie (Lisette Oropesa, left), Sulpice (Kevin Burdette, center) and Tonio (Lawrence Brownlee, right) express their joy; edited image, based on a Scott Suchmann photograph, courtesy of the Washington National Opera.]


All the casts were memorable, notably Maurizio Muraro’s Pasquale, Heidi Stober’s Norina, Lawrence Brownlee’s Ernesto and Tonio, Kevin Burdette’s Sulpice, Lucas Meachem’s Malatesta and Dimitri Pittas’ Nemorino. Lisette Oropesa’s Marie deserves special mention.

The production and excellent cast resulted in a worthy presentation of the best known of Donizetti’s works composed for French audiences. It should be considered for a revival soon in Washington and/or other operatic venues.