Donizetti’s beloved comic opera “The Daughter of the Regiment” marched onto the Lyric Opera of Chicago stage for the first time in 50 years, running through November 25.
Also known by its French-language title “La fille du régiment,” this mashup of slapstick and romance stars two of the biggest names in all of opera: Lisette Oropesa as Marie in her Lyric debut and returning favorite Lawrence Brownlee as Tonio. Filled with high-flying arias and raucous comedy, “The Daughter of the Regiment” is a must-see for devoted opera lovers and newcomers alike.
A bit of background on the opera:
Military might meets aristocratic delight. “The Daughter of the Regiment” is a comic opera that tells the story of a girl named Marie and her 1000 “dads.” An orphan found on the battlefield, Marie was raised by the soldiers of a regiment as their dear “daughter.”
Marie falls in love with Tonio, a peasant who saved her life, but then the Marquise arrives, claiming she’s Marie’s aunt and that Marie is of noble birth. The opera goes on as Marie, who knows no etiquette and talks like a soldier, learns to be a “proper” lady and faces a dreaded arranged marriage. On the wedding day, it turns out that the Marquise is actually Marie’s mother, who eventually agrees to let Marie marry her true love.
I was able to interview Grammy-nominated Black mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller, who plays the role of the haughty and dotty Marquise of Berkenfield, in a Lyric role debut.
Miller was born in Florida and raised in D.C. and Florida. She said she gained a love for classical music in an unconventional way. “It happened as a result of a crush. There was a cute guy in chorus that I wanted to get to know, and so I joined, completely unaware of how that action would change my life.”
However, classical music isn’t her only discipline. “I have explored and performed in many genres, including musical theater, and jazz and pop,” she said.
Miller said that portraying a noble, elite lady in this opera can have its challenges.
“At times, it’s quite difficult because she is a lady of privilege and has a mindset that others are beneath her, and that makes it hard for her to sympathize with others, which is completely opposite to who I am.
“The vocal challenge [comes in] the fact that there is so much spoken dialogue. I find that part to be physically and vocally challenging and demanding because it’s something that I’m just not used to, and it takes quite a lot of brain power and focus.”
Miller is a 2023 Grammy nominee for Best Opera Recording as a soloist in “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” by Anthony Davis and a frequent performer on the stages at Carnegie Hall, The Metropolitan Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Hollywood Bowl and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, among others.
She talked about her performance in the Davis presentation: “It was fantastic! Any chance to get to work with a living composer is a gift. Also, being in the community that is built during a show and a show as special as “Malcolm X,” with a majority Black cast, was so special to me. It was my first time experiencing that in opera, and to be able to see and sing with them again and again is something that I truly treasure.”
Finally, she advised young girls who may want to study classical music and perform in operas. “Know who you are to your core. Save up lots of money, find a good teacher, and learn languages.”
For information about “The Daughter of the Regiment,” presented at Lyric Opera, located at 20 N. Wacker Drive, visit lyricopera.org.