Theatre Review: Every Opera Needs Ron Megee and Debra Bluford

review

Note: This review was posted on the KC Stage review system.

The Daughter of the Regiment, libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard, and music by Gaetano Donizetti; directed by Dorothy Danner. Produced by the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Written in 1840. (Seen February 19, 2011.)

Let’s clear the air. The last (and I think only) time I saw opera, it was on PBS — and I was still living ‘at home’, either in middle school or high school. While I wasn’t against it per se, the various aspects of what makes opera opera — the typically foreign language, the more so than musicals singing to the audience (and singing soliloquies), and the fantastic plots — made me not really into it either. I have never seen one live.

One of my goals of 2011 was to go to shows outside of my ‘typical’ range, and last Saturday I got the chance by seeing The Daughter of the Regiment at the Lyric Opera.

The plot is basic. The time is 1805, just after the French won at the Battle of Marrengo. Marie (played impressively by Nili Riemer), having been abandoned as a baby, is raised by a regiment of French soldiers (hence the title). In the fashion of comedic opera (and older musicals), she has fallen in love after just a short interlude with a man who is not a man of the regiment, Tonio (a fabulous Victor Ryan Robertson). After an interchange where Tonio has to join the army, since she had promised to marry a man from the regiment, her aunt (the Marquise of Berkenfield, played by Joyce Castle) appears on the scene and forces her back to her chateau in order to learn how to be a proper woman — and, of course, to be promised to another.

From the moments of the first sounds of the overture to the last moments, the music was flawless. For the overture, I just closed my eyes and listened — and was overwhelmed by the wonder of the music. And for the two lovers, all I can say is, “Damn!” with regards to their singing. And for the second act, where Tonio pleads to be able to marry Marie …. You know that moment in live theatre where you don’t want to applaud because it was so wonderful you don’t want to break the spell? Let’s just say I had that moment right there. In fact, as many of you know, I have before railed against the ‘obligatory’ standing ovation. I joined in on the standing ovation for these two powerhouse singers.

But this is a comedy, and that is where this show won me over. However, it was more than just the ‘a wedding happens at the end’ definition of a comedy. After all, there are not many times you see a man in a nightshirt doing a jig. This production was in English, and the translation was very good. As a result, the few lines of dialogue that were spoken made the show even easier to follow.

But the comedy comes to the fore in the second act, with not only jokes about Maria Shriver and training a tomboy to be a ‘proper’ woman, but with the presence of both Deb Bluford and Ron Megee, who both upstage the entire cast and continually steal the show from each other (they play mother and son). I’m hesitant to say too much else as much of the comedy comes from the fact that Ron is playing a fop, but in my compliment to the costumes, I have to make the joke of wondering if Ron is actually wearing his own clothes for this part.

I highly recommend this production for both lovers of opera and to those who may — like me — have stayed away from it. The seats in the Lyric may be old fashioned and uncomfortable, and the show was proceeded by one of the longest curtain speeches ever, but the actual production of The Daughter of the Regiment was well worth seeing.

The Daughter of the Regiment has three more performances, and more information can be found on the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s website.