NOW THAT AUDREY LUNA'S high A's in Thomas Adès's The Exterminating Angel have set a record for the highest note ever sung at the Metropolitan Opera, Hawaii Opera Theatre's Daughter of the Regiment (heard February 11) affords the welcome opportunity to celebrate the soprano's genius as a full-service singing actress. Sung in French, with dialogue in English, conventionally assembled from rented stock, the show imposed absolutely nothing by way of concept, instead relying entirely on the talents of the cast to bring it to life.
As the foundling Marie, raised by a French platoon, Luna gave the book scenes a conversational simplicity, effecting smooth segues into the artless sentiment of the musical numbers. Effervescent as the mascot of the troops ("Chacun le sait, chacun le dit") or dejected at parting ("Il faut partir"), she sustained an air of childlike candor even in lacy flights of coloratura, punctuated with sparkling trills. Throughout her range, Luna's timbre was round and golden, clear up to a high G natural. And she projected with ease at every dynamic, most remarkably in the first-act finale, floating pianissimi that gleamed like starlight over the mezzo forte of the full ensemble.
By the final curtain, the Tonio of Michele Angelini had claimed his place as Luna's match. Not that he had not had some strikes against him. Early on, Angelini worked too hard on his country-bumpkin act. And through no fault of his own, he was made to execute the vocal acrobatics of "Ah, mes amis," with its nine high C's, loosely encased in what looked like Pavarotti's largest uniform ever. Yet in song, Angelini made his mark from the start. His voice loves to move. His tone, naturally sunny, adapts naturally to less sunny emotions. He phrases poetically, yet without affectation, keeping the line in sharp focus, yet without sharp edges. Within the compass of the role, he has no discernible fear of heights.
As Marie's long-lost mother, the Marquise of Birkenfeld, Jenni Bank displayed a plummy alto and a firm grasp of sitcom. As Sulpice, first among Marie's equal adoptive fathers, a grizzled Jake Gardner spoke his dialogue in a stage-French accent that, perhaps wisely, none of his fellows attempted. A dead ringer (apart from the uniform) for the John Huston of Chinatown, he sang with bluff, gruff bonhomie. The cameo speaking part of the imperious Duchess of Crackentorp fell to his wife, Jill Gardner. A recent Tosca for the company, she stood and delivered, to general appreciation, bars of Wagner ("Hojotoho!," "Dich teure Halle") as well as a quickly quashed "Vissi d'arte." On the move, she fluttered, bobbed, and weaved like a bird of paradise in search of a mate.
David Angus conducted in fluent, sprightly fashion. First impressions from the overture were that solo instruments, the woodwinds in particular, seized their chances with zest, while the tutti merely barreled along, thumping and opaque. Once the curtain rose and attention shifted to the stage, the superior individual contributions continued to shine while the collective shortcomings faded into the background. The volunteer chorus, renowned for heart and soul, came through true to form.
As noted, the production was a mix-and-match affair. That said, the elements truly did match. Boyd Ostroff's sets, originally designed for Fort Worth Opera, rough in the Tirolean Alps with painted drops. A built cottage and some ramps complete the rustic outdoor setting for Act I. In Act II, overstuffed furniture, a chandelier, and miscellaneous architectural bits and bobs stand for the dowdy splendors of Château Birkenfeld. The wardrobe, coordinated by the costume director Helen E. Rodgers from the catalog of Malabar, was in the colorful Gilbert-and-Sullivan vein. Content to tell the story and keep hams (mostly) in check, the director Brian Deedrick left no thumbprint to speak of, except for the pineapple and ukulele a tearful Marie tucked in her shoulder bag as she set out for her new life as a lady.