Fort Worth Opera
Conductor – Christopher Larkin
Director – Dorothy Danner
Scenic Designer – Boyd Ostroff
Makeup and Wig Designer – Steven Bryant
Lighting Designer – Chad R. Jung
Costume Designer – Beni Montresor
Stage Manager – Gina Hayes
Assistant Director – Matthew Powell
Repetiteur – Jody Schum
English Supertitle Cueing – Keith A. Wolfe
Spanish Supertitle Translation – Gabriela Lomónaco
Hortensius – Darren K. Woods
Marquise De Birkenfeld – Joyce Castle
Peasant – John Green
Sulpice – Rod Nelman
Marie – Ava Pine
Tonio – David Portillo
The Corporal – Michael Adams
Duchesse De Krakenthorp – J.R. Labbe
Notary – Christopher Leach
Reviewed Performance 4/27/2013
Reviewed by Laurie Lynn Lindemeier, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Andrew Carnegie once said, “There is little success where there is little laughter.” That sentiment being the barometer, few can argue the boiling-over success of Fort Worth Opera’s production of Donizetti’s delightful Opéra-Comique, The Daughter of the Regiment (La Fille du regiment) . In his introductory speech, Managing Director Keith Wolfe said they chose to sing the French opera in English because “We thought it was funnier that way.” That being said, the interpretation of an opera into another language usually sounds a bit awkward and less poetic than the original language. However, this factor didn’t mar the effectiveness of Fort Worth Opera’s version presented last Saturday evening at the beautiful Bass Performance Hall.
There are as many twists and turns in this reborn nineteenth century opera as a pass through the Tyrolean Mountains of Austria. In fact, that is the exact location of this story. In the opening of Act One the Marquise de Birkenfeld and her bumbling butler Hortensious are traveling through the mountains and must pause in their journey due to invading French troops. The terrified peasant women pray to a Virgin Mary statue that gets passed around a bit like a football, and the fun begins. The opera unfolds to tell the story of an abandoned illegitimate child, Marie, who has become the adopted daughter of the 21st regiment. Her band of overprotective fathers tries to keep her from the handsome peasant, Tonio, who earns Marie’s love when he rescues her from falling off a cliff. Tonio joins their ranks to get closer to Marie. Her aunt, the Marquise, tries to refine Marie and teach her graceful manners in order to marry her off to a quirky count. The timid
skinny count is firmly tied to his mother’s apron strings, but no matter, the aunt reveals her true connection to Marie and allows her daughter to marry her one true love, Tonio.
So many modern elements were incorporated into this fast-paced performance that I often felt I was watching a jubilant parody rather than a stodgy opera set in 1815. Director Dorothy Danner may be credited for the authorship of the over-the-top goofy spoken dialogue and hilarious staging for which she is well known. During the presentation of court guests in the second act, we met the Von Trapp family and Count Dracula…all remotely Germanic stereotypes come to visit. The swinging of a flag in a slow-motion swish by chorus tenor Jared Welch was another hysterical addition to the action. The soldiers reacted with slow Matrix-like twisting and bending to avoid being stuck.
This and many other amusing interpolations were embraced whole-heartedly by the audience on opening night. At times, their raucous laughter nearly drowned out the orchestra and singing. However, Conductor Christopher Larkin patiently waited for the laughter to subside before continuing so we wouldn’t miss any notes. Mr. Larkin, in general, kept the orchestra in good form for the execution of the various styles of music, ranging from military marches to woeful arias with lurid cadenzas. I particularly enjoyed the smooth French horn and flute solos in the overture. The strings joined in with a lovely tranquil sound. Before long a robust full orchestra played as the first character, a frantic elderly gentleman chased a large wagon wheel as it rolled down the mountain.
That constantly fussing baritone character, Hortensius, was sung by Darren K. Woods, who has been the General Director of the Fort Worth Opera since 2001. Mr. Woods came out of retirement to sing this roll with a former colleague, mezzo soprano Joyce Caste. When asked at the preview at The Modern how it was for him to sing again after such a long time, Woods remarked, “Fine, I’ve had thirteen years to vocalize.”
He moved from the comic tenor range to baritone for this role. Ms. Castle sang the posh Marquise de Birkenfeld and may now add this to her list of over 140 roles which she’s played during her career.
Woods and Castle played well off of each other. Woods sang the nearly deaf servant with fluffy gray hair sticking out in wing-like fashion. He carried an ear trumpet to assist in his hearing but this made little difference in his ability to understand. His biggest laugh came when he tried to restore order by declaring, “I run this place!”
Ms. Castle played the Marquise with great zest and endless sense of comedic timing. She raised her umbrella when she raised the pitch of a note in perfect sync. She sang of being old or “not so old” and the audience bellowed with laughter. In the voice lesson scene, the Marquise taught the indelicate Marie, played by soprano Ava Pine, how to sing and accidentally played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. She realized her error, turned the music upside-down, and continued to play.
As the soldiers’ mascot, turned reluctant diva, Ava Pine shone, not only for her spectacular cadenzas in “We are the best” (“Chacun le sait”) but in her outlandish silliness throughout the opera. Ms. Pine exhibited a great sense of imagination in creating one crazy antic after another. I could hardly keep my eyes off of her, wondering what she would come up with next. She was at ease on her hometown stage. In the first act I did lose some of her words as she moved from low to high register, but eventually her delivery smoothed out and became a consistently even bel canto in the second act. Ms. Pine joins many great coloratura sopranos who have embraced this demanding role such as Joan Sutherland, Lily Ponds, Beverly Sills, and Jenny Lind.
Marie’s love interest, Tonio, sung by handsome tenor David Portillo, simply took the show and ran to the hills with it. Donizetti gave this character an aria that is a mountain to climb early on in the opera: ”Yes it is true” (“Ah Mes amis”). Mr. Portillo not only nailed the nine high C’s but threw in a C sharp shortly after. The audience roared at the sheer brilliance of Portillo’s voice. To top it off, we believed that Tonio loved Marie. The lovers had chemistry. Pine and Cortillo’s voices complimented each other magnificently in their love duet, “So, then, you love me” (Quoi! Vous m’aimez”).
However, it may be said of all the singers that they cleaned their plates in terms of creating convincing characters. They took great pains to perform every entertaining antic doled out to them by Director Dorothy Danner. Just walking about the stage doing funny things would be quite dull but the Fort Worth Opera performers tied it all together.
Rod Nelman, an audience favorite, sang Sulpice, a sergeant in the regiment and Marie’s pseudo father. He was the only one who attempted a French accent which was slightly difficult to understand at times. Nonetheless, his facial expressions and comic timing were relentlessly
funny. In the preview at The Modern, the likable Mr. Nelmen candidly confessed about playing older characters, “I need more hair and less makeup than I used to need.” He’s become the FW Opera’s go-to man for buffo roles.
The chorus played a major role in the storytelling and was the glue that held the performance together. They were on stage for most of the opera, from the moment the peasant women floats a prayer in lovely harmonies to their joyous military marches and brilliant dancing complete with thigh slapping and saluting. The chorus was a delight to hear and watch. As the soldiers surrounded Marie while she sang, seated in a laundry basket, the camaraderie oozed between the soldiers and their best girl.
Costume Designer, Beni Montresor, dressed the singers in gorgeous attire, from crisp uniforms with white boots to ladies in waiting with prim bonnets and aprons. The soldiers were very pretty to look at with their scarlet red and turquoise blue uniforms. The Duchess de Krankenthorp, sung by J.R. Labbe, wore a hat with two-foot long plumage that reminded me of Dr. Seuss’ Maysie in Horton Hatches The Egg, who sported a great feathery tail. The Duchess doted on her frail and pale son, superbly played by Matthew Powell. He cracked me up when he bounced along on the couch in order to stay near his mommy and then curled up on her lap. Mr. Powell was also Assistant Director to the production.
The grandiose costumes of the Marquis were sumptuous, with rich burgundy colors and sparkling details. Marie’s costumes helped to move us through her transformation. Her boyish pants and suspenders flip-flopped to a silky blue and white gown topped off with a giant white bow that teetered on the top of her head like a book rather than a hair accessory.
Hannah Guinn, Director of Marketing and Communications, delivered the informative preshow lecture and told us that the Fort Worth Opera opted to purchase the set from the Opera Company of Philadelphia. Boyd Ostroff was the designer. In the first act, the set loomed with lanky pine trees and a rustic log cabin that seemed reminiscent of a North American mountainous area. Since the soldiers had the bold stance and red jackets akin to the Canadian Mounties, it all fell together nicely. In the second act, the mountainous backdrop remained. The foreground became the interior room in the Berkinfeld Castle and depicted golden skeletal frames for doorways and walls. Chad R. Jung designed the warm lighting which showed off the sparse silhouette design well.
Makeup and Wig Designer, Steven Bryant’s most noticeable accomplishment was in Marie. He gave her long braided pigtails as the regiment girl and then softened her look with a more elegant hairstyle
of delicate waves and curls as she attempted elegance under her aunt’s
tutelage. The Marquise flaunted a fountain-like do with bizarre flowers and loops that suited her well, especially when she bopped her head in rhythm to her own piano playing.
This production took modern interpretation of a Donizetti 1840 opera to new lengths. I enjoyed Fort Worth Opera’s sense of adventure in doing simply unheard of things. Well, in their defense, if we’d already heard it, why would we come? I found it quite pleasant to walk out of the theater into the sunshine with the predicament of my face aching from just too much smiling.
THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT
Fort Worth Opera Festival
Bass Performance Hall , Fourth and Calhoun Streets
Fort Worth, Texas 76102
Runs through May 10th.
Festival pass: $35-$200.Single tickets: $25-$200. Subscribers receive a discount. Former and current military may receive a 50% discount on two single tickets. Student rush tickets are available for $15.00.
For info and to purchase tix visit www.fwopera.org or call 817-731-0726 or 877-396-7372.