By Lawrence Budmen

The opening performance of Florida Grand Opera’s production of Gaetano Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment (The Daughter of the Regiment) on January 7 at Dade County Auditorium was cause for celebration. The opera is a sparkling French musical soufflé by the master of Italian bel canto. The FGO version does full justice to this delightful operatic sweet treat. 

As the regimental mascot Marie, the Israeli soprano Chen Reiss was a beguiling soubrette. Her pinpoint coloratura spun out dazzling roulades and ornamentation with ease and élan. In Marie’s vivacious waltz song and her tender farewell Reiss sang with tonal purity and generosity of expression. She is also a terrific comedienne who dominated every scene with her deadpan expressions and brilliant comic timing. Part Lily Pons and part Sarah Jessica Parker, Reiss exudes that elusive star quality.

Tenor John Osborn as Marie’s lover Tonio offered the kind of thrilling singing that spells opera at its grandest. This is the role that made Luciano Pavarotti a star. Osborn was equally impressive. He flawlessly hit nine high C’s in the fiercely difficult aria Pour mon ame. Osborne sang with vibrant, robust exuberance. His meltingly beautiful rendition of the cavatina in the second act was equally impressive. This tenor’s lovely, unforced vocal production is pure operatic treasure.

Joyce Castle as the comic Marquise of Berkenfeld was a real scene stealer. After many years on the operatic stage, she still commands a firm, characterful mezzo-soprano voice. Timothy Nolen offered a great buffo turn as Sulpice. The Offenbach style opera comique trio found Reiss, Osborne, and Nolen mugging it up and matching vocal wits. David Crawford as Hortensio and Libby George as the Duchess of Krackenthorp were wonderfully funny in rapid fire banter. 

Peter Leonard was the lively, ebullient conductor who drew some elegantly stylish playing from the Florida Classical Orchestra. Dorothy Danner staged a funny, busy production that owed much to her experience directing the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire. The male chorus sang vociferously while skillfully executing Danner’s manic stage antics. Boyd Ostroff’s distinctive period sets added to the evening’s charms. The entire evening exuded high spirits in the best opera comique tradition. This FGO version of La Fille du Regiment is great entertainment a la Francaise. 

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