By HOLLY BERETTO
In what proves to be one of the best productions I’ve seen at Opera in the Heights, Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment (La Fille du Regiment) fairly skips across the stage. It’s a sparky lark of an opera, the story of the orphan Marie (soprano Ashlyn Rust, Ruby Cast, in her role and Opera in the Heights debut), who is raised by a regiment of French soldiers, who falls in love with the peasant Tonio (tenor Gennard Lombardozzi, also making his Oh! debut) and discovers she’s the niece of a marquise. Set in an alpine enclave at the end of a battle during the Napoleonic wars, it’s two hours of fun and frivolity.
The story follows Marie and Tonio as they declare their love for another and are torn asunder by the Marquise de Berkenfield (the marvelously funny and impressive mezzo-soprano Nancy Markeloff) and ultimately helped back together by same said Marquise and Marie’s beloved regiment, led by Sulpice (bass-baritone Stafano de Peppo, easily the best voice of the production).
Donizetti’s rippling score fairly shimmers with effervescence, as Rust’s loveably goofy Marie alternatively prances and pouts, and her Tonio defiantly declares his love. The singing is capable and pretty. Rust is at her best in “Il faut partir,” her final aria in Act I. But she moments of brilliance and rippling singing in “Chacun le sait,” the regimental song and “Salut a la France,” making her a young soprano to watch as her voice ripens and her acting matures.
As Tonio Lombardozzi tosses off the nine high Cs of “Ah, mes amis” without much fuss, earning well-deserved applause. But it’s his “Pour me rapprocher de Marie” in Act II is much better done, with more pathos and spirit. Both Markeloss and de Peppo are fetching and funny, by turns, and their trio with Marie in Act II (“Le jour naissait dans la bocage”) can only be described as joyful.
Brian Byrnes directs his cast with aplomb, and their grand gestures and campy blocking only add to the comedy. Rachel Smith has taken Oh!’s sets up a notch here, offering a lovely landscape of a little mountain town as a backdrop and a serviceable façade of a building that stands as both the regiment’s stopping place and is later turned into the Marquise’s garden, complete with lattice work and wicker. Enrique Carreon-Robledo, in his first season as Oh! artistic director conducts the orchestra with grace.
It’s nearly impossible not to have a good time with Daughter of the Regiment. Donizetti’s score is happily bounce and go, and even its tender sides provide more wistful smiles than grief-stricken tears. Between Marie and the music, there’s very little not to love.
Photos by Isidro Urena (top) and Gwen Turner Juarez (bottom).