Friday, November 27, 2009

Review: 'Daughter of the Regiment'

Virginia Opera
Joseph Walsh conducting
Nov. 27, Carpenter Theatre, Richmond CenterStage

The Virginia Opera’s current production of Donizetti’s "La Fille du régiment" ("The Daughter of the Regiment") is Manon Strauss Evrard’s show. This company’s star voice in recent years, the soprano commands the stage and soars some distance above other voices; and when she’s absent, one awaits her return impatiently.

As Marie, a foundling adopted by the troops of Napoloeon’s 21st Regiment as their "daughter" (and laundress, barber and bootblack), Evrard is strappingly tomboyish, even in love scenes and laments. Her vitality is such that you wonder whether she’ll throw her beloved, Tonio, over her shoulder and march off to bliss at the end. (No such luck.)

In the first of two Richmond performances, Evrard handled her role’s abundant, often florid tessitura and its many big, high notes capably if not always in secure pitch. A few of her big finishes verged on shrieks. She also – involuntarily, it seemed – overbalanced the male principals, Gennard Lombardozzi (as Tonio) and Todd Robinson (Sulpice, the regimental sergeant). Robinson compensated with physical gesture; Lomardozzi never quite made it into the foreground.

Josepha Geyer (the Marquise of Berkenfeld) and Jenni Harrison (the Duchess of Krakenthorp) took on their overstuffed-dowager roles with good humor; Geyer and David Barron (Hortensius, the Marquise’s manservant) added some nice comic vocal touches.

This production is conducted by Joseph Walsh, the Virginia Opera’s associate artistic director and chorusmaster; so it wasn’t too surprising that the chorus, especially the men who populate the regiment, made a stronger than usual impression. So did the small pit orchestra of Virginia Symphony musicians, with excellent solos from French horn player David Wick, English horn player George Corbett and cellist Rebecca Gilmore.

Dorothy Danner, the stage director, opts for a physical production, but apportions the comic shtick unevenly, leaving a lot of choristers and supernumeraries taking up space to no particular effect for what seem to be long stretches. (If everyone were cavorting, chaos might ensue; but Danner might have taken a few more chances.)

The set appears to be recycled from spare parts – you might recognize the corduroy hillsides from Carlisle Floyd’s "Susannah" a couple of years ago – and other production elements are pretty basic.

A repeat performance begins at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at the Carpenter Theatre. Tickets: $29-$99. Details: (866) 673-7282 (Ticketmaster). Fairfax performances are at 8 p.m. Dec. 4 and 2 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Center for the Arts, George Mason University. Tickets: $44-$98. Details: (888) 945-2468 (;