Polarization a Success in Fort Worth’s Daughter

Who has two thumbs and made nine high C’s sound like butter?

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Photo courtesy: Ellen Appel

This guy.

As part of Fort Worth Opera’s festival season, David Portillo rocked Bass Hall this past weekend with a grounded and confident Tonio in The Daughter of the Regiment. Indeed, this was an effortless performance. Possessing a warm, lyric and agile tenor and as a gifted actor to boot, ‘this guy’ is definitely a tenor to watch.

The Daughter of the Regiment by Gaetano Donizetti takes the audience on a journey through a realm of polar opposites of sorts. Even the title amplifies antithesis: Daughter (feminine) and Regiment (Masculine). A woman as part of a military troop is a pretty extreme opposite says 19th century France. And why not? Such polarization creates such appetizing operatic friction!

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Marie (Ava Pine) sings “The grove lay still and cool” for the Marquise (Joyce Castle) until Sulpice (Rod Nelman) distracts her with the 21st Regimental song. Photo courtesy: Ron T. Ennis

Daughter begins in the quiet, high peak villages of the Tyrolean Mountains and ends up in the bustling, aristocratic chateaus of France where the only thing high are the ceilings. We witness the high-browed Marquise de Birkenfeld and her butler trying to make their way through the simple mountain villages during a time of war. Scared about being attacked on their journey, they ask the 21st Regiment to accompany them back home. The Regiment obliges just after the main antithetic character submerges – a girl, Marie, shows up as adopted daughter and ‘mascot’ of the Regiment. Marie begins to have feelings for Tonio, a clever local boy who recently saved her life. After being captured and thought of as a spy, Tonio is then saved by Marie who gets him out of the claws of the regiment. Sulpice, the sergeant of the Regiment refuses to let Marie marry anyone other than a soldier, so Tonio quickly makes both his love for Marie and his (un)intentions to be a soldier known to the Regiment with ever-convincing high screams, uh, Cs. Nine of them to be exact (another opposite – a man singing outrageously high over and over). Fed up with Marie’s unwomanly conduct, the Marquise brings her to the chateau to be taught the ways of being a lady. Unable to be charmed, and without much help from Sulpice who encourages little acts of goofing off, Marie is nevertheless set to be married into the aristocracy. Marie soon finds out that Marquise is in fact her mother who abandoned her long ago for fear of social disgrace. The Marquise ends up breaking down at the end in favor of Marie’s good will towards the Regiment and others and permits her to marry whom she wishes – much to the Regiment’s and Tonio’s delight!

Fort Worth’s “go to” soprano Ava Pine was a convincing Marie with her cute and spritely acting. She seems to be comfortable melding with other singing actors as she had fantastic chemistry with everyone in the cast.

Returning artist, Rod Nelman, was a nearly perfect match for Sulpice. With beautiful depth of sound and color, Nelman’s brassy and deep baritone paired nicely with the stature of sergeant of the 21st Regiment. He played the fine line between comedy and serious with precision and naturalness.

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Hortensius (Darren K. Woods) explains the story of how Captain Robert died on the field of battle to the Captain’s two great loves…the Duchesse de Krakenthorp (left – J.R. Labbe) and the Marquise de Birkenfeld (right – Joyce Castle.) Photo courtesy: Ron T. Ennis

It was a real treat to see Joyce Castle on the stage as the Marquise. She brought flare and nuance to a role that, if done incorrectly, can be disappointing and unexciting. This veteran of the stage had every scene in her pocket for when she made an appearance, no one could help but get sucked into her stage presence. The comedic genius of both her and Darren K. Woods as Hortensius is unmatched. As a pair, they thrilled the audience with impeccable comedic timing. It was a double treat to see the return and debut of Woods, a veteran character tenor who now plays GM to Fort Worth Opera. Indeed, there was a roar of laughter from the rapturous crowd in Act II when Woods exclaimed, “you can’t tell me what to do – I run this place!”

Much credit must be given to the creative team Dorothy Danner, Boyd Ostroff, Beni Montresor and Steven Bryant for putting together a brilliant show with colorful, but not over done costumes and sets, and exquisite, and some fantastically comical, wigs.

If you don’t like glorious music with a dose of unpretentious laughter filling a remarkable performance hall, by all means you need to stay home on May 5th and 10th. However, if you’re in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and you have half a will to find joy and culture, it would be a travesty to miss such a fun night at the opera!