The Atlanta Opera takes on Gaetano Donizetti's classic 1840 bel canto opera "La fille du régiment," or "The Daughter of the Regiment," with its latest production at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre through March 4. The results are pleasant enough — singers and chorus sound great, orchestra is fine, laughs are genuine — but overall things lack the spark, power and energy that can make the silly, lighter-than-air comedy pop to life.
Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe gives a star performance in her role debut as the Marquise of Berkenfield. Even without singing a note, she has a remarkable stage presence in the supporting role, and from her opening aria “Pour une femme de mon nom,” her voice sounds lovely and intriguing from top to bottom, rich and lustrous on low notes, clear and robust on high notes. It can’t be effortless, but she certainly makes it look that way. She creates an aristocratic Marquise, as imperious and unshakeable as Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, though slightly paranoid about sexual matters, and with a believable fondness and overprotectiveness for her young niece.
“The Daughter of the Regiment” is partly sung, partly spoken, and here the arias are sung in the original French and the spoken words performed in English. It’s a sensible choice, but it often makes the action feel as though it’s taking place in fits and starts, which can be detrimental to comedy. Originally told through a French libretto, the story of a young woman raised by a regiment of French soldiers is so silly as to sometimes seem inconsequential. Sets by James Noone and costumes by James Schuette have a fittingly bright, unfussy, 19th-century storybook quality about them.
You can’t talk about “Daughter of the Regiment” without talking about those famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) high C’s. Tenor Santiago Ballerini making his role debut as Tonio impressively hits them all in “Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!,” the Act 1 aria in which they appear, but in general, outside of those sturdy and resonant high C’s, there’s too often the sense of a singer pacing himself, of power willfully measured and restrained.
Soprano Andriana Chuchman brings a lot of physical comedy to the lead role of the tomboyish Marie. On opening night, she was slow to warm on early arias, but her beautiful “Il faut partir mes bons compagnons d’armes” had a surprisingly moving, genuinely lovely plaintiveness in spite of the silliness of the situation, and she, like Ballerini, seemed to catch her groove in Act 2, approaching the act’s arias and its humor with an appealing sense of ease and fluidity. Her scenes with Italian bass Stefano de Peppo as Sulpice are among the opera’s best.
Director E. Loren Meeker keeps things on the light side; for better or worse, perhaps both, the atmosphere, tone and humor recall “The Carol Burnett Show.” With so much regimental music, choreographer Meg Gillentine has ample opportunity to give the singers movement, and this they handle surprisingly well; it’s one of the production’s many delightful small charms.
Conductor Christopher Allen, recipient of the 2017 Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award, manages the difficult job of balancing the need for a lively pace with an equally compelling instinct to savor the languorous prettiness of Donizetti's sumptuous music: He brings out interesting variety from the musicians and instruments from the opening moments of the overture as melody moves from section to section.
It would be hard to identify any thing particularly wrong with the new production of “The Daughter of the Regiment.” Things are clearly in the right place, but overall the show lacks the outrageous energy and over-the-top lively irreverence that help give the frothy comedy its life. Still, the whole thing is bright and fun, short (by opera standards) and sweet, so it’s hard to complain.
The Atlanta Opera’s “The Daughter of the Regiment”
7:30 p.m. Feb. 27; 8 p.m. March 2; 3 p.m. March 4. $35-$131. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 404-881-8885, www.atlantaopera.org.