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Fort Worth Opera scores with lively, very funny 'Regiment'

Posted 5:25pm on Monday, Apr. 29, 2013

Whatever else you may say about the Fort Worth Opera’s Daughter of the Regiment, it’s surely the company’s most laugh-inducing production in a long time. A large and merry audience had a grand old time at the opening performance Saturday night in Bass Hall.

Donizetti’s opera has its musical pleasures as well as its comedic ones, and Saturday night’s cast scored on both points. This was particularly true of soprano Ava Pine, who sang the role of Marie, the “daughter” of the title. Her lovely voice moved easily through the part’s acrobatic passages as well as the more seductive lyric ones, and her sense of the stage made the most of the possibilities for comedy in the role.

It’s a great plus that the Fort Worth Opera is singing this Regiment in English (its original language is French, though there’s an Italian version). It’s a double-plus that the enunciation was so clear Saturday night. The company is projecting both English and Spanish above the stage, and two or three times the projections went blank -- but it didn’t matter much, because the cast spoke (yes, there are spoken passages) and sang so clearly.

This meant that the many comic lines had their full effect, particularly when they were so well-timed and delivered. The tone of The Daughter of the Regiment is kind of proto-Gilbert & Sullivan. When the regiment goes marching off, their actions and words are about as sincere as those of a regiment in G&S would be. There’s a lot of sly mockery, which relents only at a few sentimental junctures.

Director Dorothy Danner deserves a lot of credit for the success of this production. The characters’ actions were funny and so were their lines. The spoken dialogue, updated with some modern references, was by Danner.

There were sight gags as well. One amusing touch was an easel with a series of signs announcing changing times of day, as if what was transpiring was a silent movie. When one character sneezed, a placard that read “Gesundheit” appeared; The reaction to one onstage comment was a French word that can’t be reprinted in a family newspaper.

Bright colorful costumes, cartoonish designs and a lot of frenetic action elevated the sense of liveliness. Given the smoothness of the production, it seems obvious that much rehearsal time went into it.

In addition to Pine, there were a number of memorable singer/actors.

I wasn’t much drawn to the Tonio of David Portillo. He certainly has the part’s notorious high notes, and gives the impression that he could easily go higher, but there’s something a little grating in high, loud passages. He does cut a nice boyish figure and in soft, lyric passages is impressive. It must be said that the audience gave him a roaring reception.

The Sulpice of Rod Nelman, the Marquise of Joyce Castle, and J.R. Labbe’s Duchess of Krakenthorp were among others producing vocal and acting pleasure.

Darren K. Woods’ Hortensius was a hoot. The general director of the Fort Worth Opera is apparently taking the role as a lark. He has a great gift for comedy and got many a laugh. There should be no complaint about his giving the role to himself.

The orchestra and chorus, under the direction of Christopher Larkin, produced a disciplined performance that was one of the evening’s best ingredients.

The Daughter of the Regiment will be repeated at 2 p.m. May 5 and 7:30 p.m. May 10 in Bass Hall. Details at fwopera.org.

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