Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment” is a lighthearted entertainment featuring spectacular vocal displays held together by a slender plot.
Marie, lost as a babe on a battlefield, was raised by the regiment of Grenadiers that found her. The entire regiment, led by Sergeant Sulpice, serves as Marie’s fathers. Just as she and Tonio, a young local fellow, fall in love, she is discovered by her real family, the Birkenfelds (royal, of course) and whisked away to learn the pretentious manners of the social elite. Fortunately, her loyal Grenadiers sweep in at the last moment to rescue her from a loveless marriage to the wealthy Crackentorp family, everyone comes to their senses, and the lovers unite.
The plot isn’t why audiences have embraced this work for almost 180 years; it’s the opportunity to hear vocal pyrotechnics. “Daughter of the Regiment” is all about the voices, more of a staged-concert-with-plot than drama.
Presented by Hawaii Opera Theatre
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
When: 4 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Cost: $34-$135; ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000
Production notes: “Daughter of the Regiment” by G. Donizetti; directed by Brian Deedrick, conductor David Angus, lighting design by Peter Dean Beck, costume director Helen E. Rodgers, chorus director Nola A. Nahulu, répétiteur Maikaʻi Nash, stage manager Kelly Luft. With Audrey Luna (Marie), Michele Angelini (Tonio), Jake Gardner (Sergeant Sulpice), Jenni Bank (Marquise of Birkenfeld), Jamie Offenbach (Hortensius), Jill Gardner (Duchess of Crackentorp), Rivers Hawkins (Corporal), Logan Webber (Peasant), and Jonathan Sypert (Notary). Two acts, running time 2.5 hours; appropriate for all audiences.
Audrey Luna (Marie) is a lyric coloratura soprano, a voice that is light and agile but most of all very, very high while still powerful enough to carry to the back of an opera hall. In fact, Luna made headlines in November by singing the highest note ever sung at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, so prepare to be wowed.
In Hawaii Opera Theatre’s “Daughter,” which opened Friday at Blaisdell Concert Hall, Luna presented a vivacious Marie — lighthearted, carefree and unconstrained by vocal norms. She appears in almost every scene, impressing with everything from tender ballads to stratospheric displays.
Astonishingly, Michele Angelini (Tonio) was even more impressive, with a meltingly beautiful lyric tenor, perfectly trained, with a clear, vibrant tone and a tessitura high enough to make those famously high passages sound easy. His display number comes at the end of Act I, when he sings “high C” (the Holy Grail for tenors) not once, but repeatedly. His high notes were, of course, amazing and wonderful, but it was the core quality of his voice that was so thrilling.
This quality of singing simply can’t be found in any other genre; Luna and Angelini are why people continue to fall in love with opera.
The supporting cast were delightful as well, carrying the story along and providing comic asides. Jenni Bank (the Marquise de Birkenfeld) and Jamie Offenbach (her steward, Hortensius) played the risible aristocrats, she short and round, he tall and thin, both ridiculously dressed, with excellent voices and farcical acting.
The most striking was a nonsinging role — quite unusual for opera — by Jill Gardner as the Duchess of Crackentorp, with her flamboyantly feathered headdress and operatic shrieks. At one point, the Duchess launches into singing one of Jill Gardner’s acclaimed roles (“Tosca”) and Hortensius has to correct her, “Wrong opera!”
Jake Gardner and his large, warm baritone as the avuncular Sergeant Sulpice and Marie’s surrogate father, was the most realistic character, holding the midline between young lovers and crazy aristocrats.
This opera lends itself to over-the-top acting, and the HOT cast was at its best when free to clown around, as in the singing lesson scene.
“Daughter of the Regiment” is an “opéra comique,” the 19th-century French equivalent of a musical, and includes spoken dialogue between musical numbers. The shift between singing in French and dialogue in English can be startling at first, and it takes a moment to connect characters’ singing and speaking voices, but the mix of supertitles and miking was handled smoothly.
In keeping with opéra comique tradition, HOT liberally inserted local touches, including lilikoi malasadas, lei, an Uber driver, a pink ukulele and a pineapple — all set within the Tyrolean alps.
Also typical of the style was HOT’s single set, a backdrop of the alps with scene changes effected via set pieces rolled on and off, keeping the focus on the music. Lighting by Peter Dean Beck signaled moods, and staging included references to famous art and other musical works. Trying to catch the references is part of the fun.
Musically, the evening began roughly: the opening of the overture is treacherously exposed, and the first choruses were mostly enthusiasm, but performances strengthened as musicians settled in and the opera began to flow. By mid-opera, the chorus delivered a rousing regimental song, and Act II opened with a sweetly tender violin solo.
Conductor David Angus kept an even pacing, and the evening closed with the requisite “happy ending chorus,” followed by enthusiastic applause.
Ruth O. Bingham received her doctorate in musicology from Cornell University and has been reviewing the musical arts for more than 30 years.