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Subject: Wash Natl Opera's forceful FILLE du REGIMENT operns with RBG getting raves and bravos with grace (11-12-16)
From: Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 13 Nov 2016 13:56:55 -0500

text/plain (83 lines)

 Last night the Washington National Opera unveiled its new production of Daughter of the Regiment with a superb cast and an adorable production that truly impressed, but there was no question that the operatic debut of Supreme Court Justice Ruth bader Ginsburg as the Duchess of Krakenthorp (she had previously appeared only as s super!) was the center of the evenings post-operatic chat.

The opera continues through next weekend with alternating casts

Lawrence Brownlee (Nov. 12, 14, 16, 18, 20)
Andrew Stenson (Nov. 13, 17, 19)
Lisette Oropesa (Nov. 12, 14, 16, 18, 20)
Andriana Chuchman (Nov. 13, 17, 19)
Kevin Burdette
The Marquise of Birkenfeld:
Deborah Nansteel 
The Duchess of Krakenthorp:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Nov. 12 only)
Cindy Gold (Nov. 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20)
Timothy J. Bruno
Hunter Enoch
Dancing Master:
Randy Snight

Conductor: Christopher Allen
Director and Choreographer: Robert Longbottom
Set Designer: James Noone
Costume Designer: Zack Brown
Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough
Hair and Makeup Designer: Anne Ford-Coates for Elsen Associates
Movement Director: Courtney Young

I have to mention that the Overture was beautifully executed and Maestro Allen in a debut gave a very good impression. During this time however, the pit lights lit him in such a way that his shadows were moving across the sides of the opera house as if from something out of Fantasia!

I first noticed the program listing for "Costumes" and was mystified that the superlative Zack Brown had returned to DC after an almost two decade absence, but was later told that these were recycled costumes from his past production (with additions and changes), which was just fine.

The set by James Noone was simple at first and could have used a bit more for Act I which had two two-dimensional evergreen cutouts at the rear left, a Madonna with candles at the front for the townsfolk to pray at (which was rolled off quickly), and a large cutout circle at the rear through which we saw an Alpine back painting of mountains, some buildings and more two-dimensional trees. A pile of "rock stairs" was in front of the oval and the cast mounted these to enter into the "cutout" at the rear which had staircases on each side. While basic, it was quite cute. In the second act, we had a lavish salon with four sets of paired white gilded columns, a piano to one side, two hooded chairs on wheel and through the oval a grand staircase leading to double doors to outside at the rear; this was quite elegant and worked so well. Ms. Nansteel's Marquise is rolled on atop luggage on a luggage cart dressed in an overly frilly dress and feathered hat and gives us a wonderfully over "afectée" "Pour une femme with extra trills and highs for effect.

After she departs for refuge, 3 small tents with French flags appear and Ms. Oropesa's Marie enters with a tomboy haircut in a long white (undergarment-like) gown that had legged culottes to the ground. Our soldiers are led by Mr. Burdette's Sulpice in red, white and blue military garb with tall plumed hats and golden epaulettes for the sergeant. From their opening duet we knew that this was going to be a remarkable Marie and she excelled at every note, but also gave the role superb character that I have rarely seen heretofore. Mr. Burdette's firm deep voice was also just right, and it was hard to believe it has taken him so long to come back for a company debut after being here at Wolf Trap so long ago!

Her "Chacun le sait" was a tour de force for the regimental song and she donned a cape first and ultimately ended up in military garb and hat similar to her "fathers."

Mr. Brownlee's Tonio was in lederhosen and feathered cap and he was barred from Marie by an 18-member male chorus with another half dozen military supers which filled the stage well. The opening duet for the lovers, "Depuis le temps..." had them in perfect sync, which never gave up for the entire show; this is indeed the most perfect pair I have ever seen in this opera--they belong together. Every high note shone and it was indeed a great musical union.

When it came time for Mr. Brownlee to show off, his "Ah mes amis..." had every high note milked perfectly and absolutely spot on. His final "militaire" garnered him some of the biggest applause I have heard in this theater for among time (well, at least until RBG entered in Act II).

The gorgeous largo "Il faut partir..." is truly a special aria and director Robert Longbottom chose to take a novel approach by having Marie walk down the line of men from the regiment each proffering a childhood memento such as a doll or teddy bear. Unfortunately, the approach backfired with the last soldier pulling out a pair of baby shoes and getting an horrible guffaw or screech from one or more audience members that totally broke the lovely line of this sombre moment.

When I returned to my seat I discovered that the lady in front of me was again (alas) the lady who loves to flip her long hair back in my face. Luckily, she had a coat on the chair in back of her so I got no hair in my mouth or face this time around!

As I mentioned the set was gorgeous for Act II and was chock full of extras as footmen and maids. The two hooded chairs are at the sides turned to the back as Marie comes down the grand staircase in a flimsy ballerina white costume with the brilliant Dancing Master attempting to keep her in line. There were some funny moves here and ultimately Marie grabs his staff as she goes into the regimental march.

The two chairs were then turned around revealing the Marquise in one and RBG as the Duchess in the other; the applause went on for quite some time. She then delivered a monologue about the qualifications for the woman who is to marry the Duke which included many points that got massive applause and whoops from the audience including "open, but not empty minds." This homage to women was beautifully written by Kelley Rourke along with the Justice and truly got the audience going, especially after this week's election. The Duchess then demanded the bride be of perfect lineage and would need to produce a birth certificate, which had us all in stitches, as the Marquise looked on in horror, realizing this was not possible due to the child's extenuating birth circumstances.

The Duchess left in a huff as coach/pianist Michael Baitzer took the piano for Marie's "music lesson," as Sulpice drank from his flask and tried desperately to make a cushion on a pouf at the right fit back into the sofa. The lesson had Marie unfolding the music across the entire stage like an accordion and ultimately she pulled the music from the piano in a similar way. She also mock strangled herself with a scarf she had on a la Isadora Duncan. This was followed by her gorgeous second plaintive aria in the opera and the offstage band welcoming the regiment. "Salut a la France..." had more clean crisp high notes again from Ms. Oropesa, who never faltered at any moment throughout the evening and we were then treated to some adorable choreography for "Tous les trois..." the reunion trio for Tonio, Sulpice & Marie.

Mr. Brownlee's ensuing aria "Pour me rapprocher de Marie.." had new meaning from this amazing tenor. I really felt for him and was blown away when he hit his high notes on "s'il me fallait."

RBG comes back and ultimately delivers one line, "Quelle scandale!!" which got some laughs as the finale ensued with the reprise of "Salut a la France."

If you like Donizetti, high notes, shorter works (this rings in at under 2-3/4 hours with intermission) or any of these talented artists then you really need to check out this short run with six more performances in this one upcoming week!


ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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