Indeed, with a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean Francois Bayard, the story of “The Daughter of the Regiment” is rather straightforward and simple. It’s about Marie, an orphan who was brought up by a group of paternal French soldiers, and who now cooks and cleans for them. The crux of the tale revolves around the now grown-up Marie who falls in love with, Tonio, a poor fellow whom the soldiers, especially Sgt. Sulpice, believes is unsuitable for their beloved girl.
Things get more complex, though, when Marie’s aunt the Marquise of Berkenfield, whom Marie never met and didn’t know existed, arrives to take her away. The wealthy and snobbish aunt wants Marie to have a better life and is dead set on getting her educated and involved with a higher strata of society and with more honorable consorts. Of course, since the opera is supposed to be a romantic comedy, love triumphs at the end and everyone lives happily ever after.
That said, it appears that the Lyric made a decision to reprise the opera because they believed that Donizetti’s delicious melodic score would overcome the opera’s slight plot. Indeed, under Italian conductor Speranza Scappucci’s baton, in her debut at the Lyric, the Lyric Orchestra was in top form and the music was intoxicating.
Furthermore, the Lyric may have held back in reviving the opera because “The Daughter of the Regiment” makes extremely high demands on its performers. After all, it requires a tenor that can hit the nine high C’s of Donizetti’s score. Pavarotti thrilled the world when he did so as the Regiment’s tenor, Tonio, at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1973, but there are not many tenors today who can match those heights.
Mr. Brownlee was well matched with Lisette Oropesa, who shined in the role of Maria. The American soprano was a charming heroine who demonstrated not only a golden-voice rendition of “Quand le destin,” but proved to have some wonderfully comic moments in response to the demands of the soldiers and of her controlling aunt.
Others who contributed terrific performances to the opera include baritone Alessandro Corbelli as Sulpice, the regimental sergeant who believes he’s a father figure to Marie, and can approve or disapprove of her love interests. As the Marquise, soprano Ronnita Miller provided the impediment for the young lovers; Joy Hermalyn was fun as the Duchess of Crakentorp; and bass-baritone Alan Higgs was a hoot as the butler Hortensius, proving that a little humor can often go a long way.
Director Christian Räth has restaged original director Laurent Pelly’s sleek production to perfection. Set during World War I by designer Chantal Thomas, it offers a minimalist backdrop that provides enough pageantry, flag waving, and colorful uniforms to convey the historical period. And the regiment soldiers, dancing and singing under chorus director Michael Black’s lead, come across as much a character as the rest of the ensemble.
At the opera’s finale, the audience roared and applauded on and on, for what seemed forever, making it one of the longest ovations the Lyric has ever experienced. A joyful, exuberant evening of pure joy, which probably had the Lyric scratching their heads in wonderment, questioning why they had waited so long to resurrect such a stunning and popular opera.