Very few tenors say “Oh! “mes amis” sounds a lot like Lawrence Brownlee, with his nine high Cs. Even fewer can playfully reprise his high-string cabaletta.
But after thunderous applause halted Saturday’s opening of Donizetti’s “La fille du régiment” (“The Daughter of the Regiment”), she sang the song again, possibly the Lyric Opera’s first encore in decades, according to a company spokesman.
Brownlee’s reprise isn’t the only surprising debut in this production. Somehow, this is only Lyric’s second “Régiment”; Lyric last offered the bel canto confection in 1973. This also marks the company debut of megastar soprano Lisette Oropesa, who stars opposite Brownlee as Marie.
Orphan Marie was adopted by a French regiment who raised her as a canteen girl. Fifteen years later, Marie is a teenager and in love with Tyrolean teenager Tonio (Brownlee). Unfortunately, Tonio has two moves against her: He is of enemy lineage and needs Marie’s approval, which means winning over every one of her 1,500 fathers. No sooner has Tonio gained the trust of the regiment than the aristocrat Marquise de Berkenfield (mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller) appears and takes Marie away, claiming to be Hoyden’s next of kin. But as the Marquise learns the hard way, it’s easier to take the girl out of the army than the army out of the girl.
“Ah! mes amis” – Tonio’s pledge of loyalty to the regiment – is quickly becoming a tradition in its own right. Juan Diego Flórez famously shattered both La Scala and the Met’s taboo against non-repetition by reviving the aria in 2007 and 2008. Javier Camarena did it again in 2019 with a company simulcast at the Met.
Brownlee’s “Oh! mes amis” rightfully stands with his peers. Arya has been a calling card for Brownlee for more than a decade, and time has never dimmed the high-beam brilliance of her voice or her gymnastic agility and power, especially when she’s jumping into those high Cs.
And “Oh! mes amis” wasn’t even Brownlee’s most impressive moment of the night. This must be his gilded, impassioned “Pour me rapprocher de Marie…” Tonio’s plea to the Marquise of Act 2.
Oropesa had sung Marie opposite Brownlee before; this includes the now famous 2016 Washington National Opera production. Cameo by Ruth Bader Ginsburg She appeared as the Duchess of Crakentorp. Oropesa’s bumbling and masculine Marie has “Régiment’s” funniest and most vocally gorgeous moments. Oropesa’s coloratura styles have a solid backbone and can easily carry the orchestra and the hall. The top note is also stubborn; Twice in this staging, Oropesa had to hit high notes while being lifted into the air by her fellow actors. No one who heard her would ever guess that she was tossing around like a Raggedy Ann doll, blowing D’s on the wand.
But like Brownlee, Oropesa’s best moments are concentrated in balladic arias. There is a scene in Act 1’s “Il faut partir” and Act 2’s “Par le rang et par l’opulence” where Marie laments leaving her beloved regiment behind, a scene that melts in the ears and pierces the heart. She then heralds their reunion with a sparkling “Quand le destin”.
Miller’s mezzo-contralto is a good fit for the Marquise, although it was a bit white and soft next to her peers on Saturday. The ever-flexible bass Alessandro Corbelli, a frequent Lyric guest in Buffo roles, is right in his element as the bumbling Sergeant. Sulpice, the favorite person of many of Marie’s adoptive fathers; sardonic bass-baritone Alan Higgs sparks comedy as Hortensius, the Marchioness’s pale manservant. Joy Hermalyn, who starred as Yente in Lyric’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” returns as a lovable and jealous Crakentorp.
Lyric broke the drought of Laurent Pelly’s “Régiment” with its globe-trotting production in 2007; here it is faithfully revived by director Christian Räth. The twee but laugh-out-loud production adds witty new dialogue by Agathe Mélinand and highlights the opera’s action from the Napoleonic Wars to the First World War. In Chantal Thomas’s spectacular set, huge maps of France and Tyrol fold into peaks like the Alps. the setting of the opera; In Act 2, the elegant villa of the Marquise de Berkenfield is simply superimposed on them. Production client Pelly would do well to remind us that Marie and Tonio are just kids, even if their make-ups meet – especially Marie’s Pippi Longstocking. -Cindy Lou Who hairstyle — a little “Hansel and Gretel” feel.
Other aspects move beyond ridiculousness and become unnecessary. Nothing screams “Pre-Recession production” like an extremely underutilized 11-piece dance band or three massive pop-up set pieces that only hang for a few seconds each and add exactly nothing to the scene. The Marquise’s fireplace may have flickered with burning money.
Under the confident direction of guest conductor Speranza Scappucci, the Lyric orchestra and chorus matured as the show progressed. The messy conflict between pit and stage in Act 1 eventually ends with Judith Zunamon Lewis’s aching English horn solo in “Il faut partir” and the passionate first table monologues of concertmaster Robern Hanford and cellist Calum, and Donizetti’s score becomes lively, sensitive. integrated into one narrative. Cooking in Act 2. Hear the generous, arresting voice of supporting cast member Ron Dukes, the Ryan Opera Center bassist who makes a brief appearance as Corporal.
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Take Brownlee’s lead: This is something you’ll want to hear over and over again.
Hannah Edgar is a freelance critic.
Review: “The Regiment’s Daughter” (3.5 stars)
When: until November 25
Where: Chicago Lyric Opera, 20 N. Wacker Drive
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (including intermission)
Tickets: $41-339 at 312-827-5600 and lyricopera.org