Opening the 2015 Summer Season in its stunning setting at the open-air Crosby Theater in Santa Fe, Ned Canty’s production of “Daughter of the Regiment” features Anna Christy as a Marie with a smile that could light up Broadway; Alek Shrader as her goofy Tyrolean heartthrob, Tonio, and Kevin Burdette as a rubbery-legged, mugging Suplice. While Shrader was in control of his high c’s and managed to play comedy while sending out glorious wafting notes of emotion and musicality, the production as a whole had more entertainment value than musical revelation.
Canty presented a version of the opera with recitative lines in spoken (English) text, and the singing in the original French. Phyllis Pancella, contralto, as the Marquise of Berkenfeld, was, like the others, required to be playing, one minute, for laughs, and the next for our sympathy. Somehow, through the night, she managed to maintain her dignity while doing so, offering credibility in the midst of hi-jinks that were often not far removed from commedia del arte hamminess. If only it were actually funny.
Christy, in her Napoleonic bicorne hat and army coat , works the cute side of Marie. In lieu of the butch authority someone like Joan Sutherland or Beverly Sills must have added to the role, Christy is lighter-weight, like Elle in “Legally Blonde 2,” ready to sing her way into the next phase of her life (away from the regiment) with a coloratura that is more determined than juicy, technically there but without the full-bodied sound of a fat lady (which she very much is not). However, her delivery of an early aria in Act 2, “Par le rang et par l’opulence,” finally yields a moment where she is allowed not to grin like the Cheshire Cat. Here, her tone softened a little, and a light shone through the notes.
While the soldiers and their uniforms were deliberately designed to be ill-matching (apparently uniforms of the day were left up to the individual to interpret—and make) and the marching and dancing also deliberately folksy rather than military precise, the members of the regiment offered choruses with well-rehearsed dynamics and enunciation as well as gusto. As for their acting, it was believeable that they rescued Marie with a nearly boyish excitement. In fact, many of the chorus men, all apprentices at the opera for the summer, are the age of real soldiers. While this war is bloodless, (on stage anyway) with an Act 1 set that looks like it was borrowed from a production of “Les Miserables, ” the boys will certainly have their chance to get shot at and die in the American Civil War later this summer, during the world premiere of “Cold Mountain,” composed by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon.