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Delightful Daughter of the Regiment Well Served by Pocket Opera

San Francisco
Pocket Opera
03/14/1999 -  and 21 and 28*, March, 1999
Gaetano Donizetti: Daughter of the Regiment (La Fille du Regiment)
Estelle Kruger (Marie), William Gorton (Tonio), Ethan Smith (Sulpice), Donna Peterson (Marquise of Berkenfield), Matthew Cavicke (Hortensius), Duchess of Krackenthorp (Mark Hernandez), Daniel Akerman (Corporal)
Pocket Philharmonic, Donald Pippin (Conductor)
Jenny Lord (Director)

Until Luciano Pavarotti dazzled the world with his rendition of "Pour mon ame", Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment was considered primarily as a soprano vehicle. Pocket Opera’s recent production reinforces its status as such a vehicle with a charming, vivacious Estelle Kruger in the title role.

The opera has less than two hours of music in it, but in that time span, Marie sings a pair of exquisitely lyrical arias, a couple of coloratura showpieces, a notable duet, a delightful trio and other ensemble pieces. Indeed, the role demands much of a soprano with very little time to rest between extended onstage appearances.

None of these challenges daunted Kruger however. Her sparkling presence conveyed the essence of the roughly raised young "viviandiere" with her lively forthright performance. Kruger had no problems with the florid vocal writing and frequent high notes, but she was even more affecting in the lyric passages where her pure, silvery soprano was paired with shapely phrases, emotional veracity and sterling diction.

Equally superb in her role was Donna Peterson as the Marquise of Berkenfield. Peterson’s extensive stage experience was clearly evident as she commanded the stage as the Marquise. Peterson found plenty of opportunities to fill out the character, making the Marquise both a comic character and a sympathetic one. Peterson used her full, rich mezzo to maximum effect, at times adding to the comic effect while at others giving the character a sense of dignity and warmth.

Ethan Smith contributed a charming, blustering Sulpice. His pleasant lyric baritone had just the right weight for the role. As an actor, he interacted with both Peterson and Kruger superbly creating well-defined relationships and strong rapport with both.

Tenor William Gorton was less successful in the role of Tonio. Gorton did a creditable job with the demanding "O mes amis" aria with its eight high C’s, but too often a tight jaw and neck seemed to constrict the tone. His concentration on the musical and singing aspects of the performance left little room for characterization or presence.

As the Marquise’s majordomo, Hortensius, Matthew Cavicke created a delightfully silly character. Mark Hernandez was an outrageously funny Duchess of Krackenthorp without ever becoming self-indulgent.

Stage director Jenny Lord can claim her share of the credit for the success of this Daughter of the Regiment. The staging was clear and clean while allowing the cast to bring their own qualities out to the benefit of the opera. There were a few sight gags and silly bits of business, but they never intruded upon or worked against the music. Marie’s second act entrance with an enormous bow virtually obscuring her torso provided the kind of visual hijinks that added to the sense of fun this production created.

Donovan Thompson, the costume designer, also had a field day with some of the other costumes with lots of bright colors, wacky combinations and all of them suited to both character and performer.

As always, Donald Pippin presided over the production, leading the Pocket Philharmonic in a spirited reading of Donizetti’s tuneful score. His sense of timing and rhythmic proportion kept the momentum going while sensitively supporting the singers. There were also some fine solo contributions by orchestra members.

The sense of fun that the cast and production of Daughter of the Regiment conveyed are much of what Pocket Opera is about. With the kind of unpretentious accessibility that had the audience both amused and delighted, Pippin can proudly add colorful feather to his trademark beret.

Kelly Snyder



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