A “Daughter” We Can All Adopt

A “Daughter” We Can All Adopt
Caitlin Cisler and Javier Abreu

If the world of opera has such a thing as empty calories, then Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment (The Daughter of the Regiment), would be a prime example. But that’s exactly what the Madison Opera season needed, with their opening last fall of that great melodrama, Tosca, and April’s forthcoming staging of the intense Dead Man Walking.

Add to this midwinter prescription a once-upon-a-time local lass returning in the title role, and a full Capitol Theater audience Friday night received a potent treatment to survive the midwinter blahs.

Caitlin Cisler is no stranger to Madison, having studied and taught here for nearly six years before moving away a few months ago. She had a supporting role in A Masked Ball with Madison Opera and sang last summer in Opera in the Park, but the lead role of Marie gave her the kind of breakthrough opportunity that could prove a stepping stone to other lead roles in larger companies.

Donizetti’s opus is really an operetta, with spoken dialogue, and a flimsy but endearing twist on boy-meets-girl, etc. The 1840 work lay fallow for much of the twentieth century until a young Luciano Pavarotti came along and tossed off the aria “Ah! mes amis!” with its nine high Cs with disarming ease. Madison received the local debut of Javier Abreu, and while he might not have jabbed those Cs with Pavarottian intensity, he did securely nail them all, and proved a highly likable character with a reliable voice—one seemingly suited to the smaller venue.

But it was Cisler as Marie who floated and flitted and sparkled and sang, easily combining winsome appeal with coloratura chops. Her voice is clear and assured, and the work gives her many moments for showiness and more subtle expression.

Allisanne Apple proved a marvelous comic foil as the Marquise (who was actually the long-lost mother of Marie), sparking the comedy time and again. With Nathan Stark as Sergeant Sulpice, the opening scene of Act 2 was simply a tour de force for the three of them, Cisler juggling vocal styles while Apple, at the piano onstage, was suitably outraged at Stark’s attempts to liven the intended art song.

The “regiment” consisted of about a dozen or so men who alternately prance through their formations and fawn over their adopted “daughter.” The sets and costumes are happily traditional, and David Lefkowich directed with a deft hand for broad physical comedy that never teetered on slapstick.

John DeMain led a pared down Madison Symphony that maximized a number of gorgeous stretches, and not surprisingly, he easily managed to favor expressiveness when the pace of the action allowed for it while keeping well away from any tendency to maudlin phrasing.

The spoken dialogue in English was the perfect approach, as the pace of the action would have made projected surtitles problematic, while letting the players speak in English allowed a genuine flow to the comedy. Chalk up another win for general director Kathryn Smith, and file it under “for those who think they don’t like opera.” It’s worth checking to see if tickets remain for Sunday afternoon’s final performance.