Dayton Opera goes military with newest show
By Eric Street
Dayton Opera revs up again in a big, tuneful way with Gaetano Donizetti’s comedy, “The Daughter of the Regiment,” which takes the Schuster Center stage April 15 and 17. This light-hearted two-act opera is famous for the aria “Ah! mes amis!,” which has been called Mount Everest for tenors because of its nine exposed high C’s. Luciano Pavarotti’s stardom dates from a performance of this opera in partnership with Joan Sutherland at the Metropolitan Opera, and the dazzling if perilous aria was one of his favorite showpieces.
The role of the rambunctious tomboy Marie, raised by the 21st regiment of the French army, will be taken by coloratura soprano Donna Smith. Smith last appeared with Dayton Opera in the 2007 “H.M.S. Pinafore.” David Portillo sings her tenor suitor, Tonio, in his Dayton debut. A frequent Dayton Opera performer, baritone Mark Andrew Baker returns as Sulpice. Gregory Jebaily, who sang in Dayton Opera’s 2010 “Faust” returns as Hortensius. Johnathon Pape will direct.
Making cameo appearances as themselves, Lt. Gen. Thomas J. Owen and his wife, Mary Beth, appear as special guests along with the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Honor Guard and the Wright Brass. Come an hour early to hear the Wright Brass perform, augmented by percussion and a singer, in the Schuster Center’s Wintergarden.
While celebrating their 50th anniversary with Donizetti’s bumptious military romp, Dayton Opera also celebrates Dayton’s own military and support personnel of Wright Patterson Air Force Base with discounts on season and individual tickets for all enlisted and support personnel. Dayton Opera Chorus Master and Conductor Jeffrey Powell conducts, marking his 20th anniversary with the company.
Donizetti and His “Daughter”
The third son of a pawnshop caretaker, Gaetano Donizetti was born in humble circumstances November 29, 1797 in Bergamo, Italy. Like Haydn and Schubert, Donizetti‘s first musical training was as a choirboy. He was admitted at the age of nine on a full scholarship to the Lezioni Caritatevoli, a school founded by German opera composer Johann Simon Mayr. Young Gaetano studied with Mayr, who greatly influenced Donizetti’s musical development and helped him launch his professional career. Mayr later sent Donizetti to Padre Stanislao Mattei, Rossini’s teacher, for further composition lessons.
Donizetti went on to become the most prolific of the Bel Canto composers, outstripping his Italian contemporaries Rossini and Bellini in sheer number of operas composed, variously estimated between 65 and 75. Due to the speed with which he often composed, the quality can be variable and his first 32 operas remain generally unheard. However, with the international success of his tragic 1830 “Anna Bolena” (Anne Boleyn) in Milan, Donizetti’s star rose. He achieved yet greater fame with his best-known comedies, “L’elisir d’amore” (Elixir of Love) and “Don Pasquale,” both of which have been staged by Dayton Opera. His 1833 “Lucrezia Borgia” continued to secure his standing.
Donizetti’s most famous serious opera, “Lucia di Lammermoor” (1835), became a pivotal work in the bel canto revival of the late 1950s and 60s, and productions of his operas became career-changing springboards for rising artists such as Callas, Sutherland, Sills, and Pavarotti. His writing typically calls for great virtuosity from the soprano and tenor leads.
Throughout his career Donizetti battled with the powerful Italian censors to put his works on stage, and he relocated to Paris in 1838. It was there that he composed “La fille du regiment” (The Daughter of the Regiment) in 1840. “The Daughter of the Regiment” is still frequently performed and in 2008 was telecast in high definition to theaters worldwide (including Dayton) from the Metropolitan Opera.
By all accounts Donizetti was a kind man, supportive of fellow composers and loyal to his long-time mentor, Mayr. He dominated the Italian opera scene during the years between Bellini’s death and Verdi’s rise to fame after “Nabucco.” Unfortunately, he encountered great personal sadness and loss in his adult life. Donizetti met his wife, Virginia, in Rome and married her in 1828. None of their three children survived. His parents died in the mid 1830s, and the year after his parents’ death, Virginia died in a cholera epidemic.
As a continuance of this series of unfortunate events, Donizetti suffered from syphilis. Symptoms of the then incurable illness appeared as early as 1843, and by 1845 his condition had deteriorated so severely that he was institutionalized. A friend of his, Baron Lannoy, interceded with Donizetti’s nephew to have the composer moved to a Paris apartment where he could receive care and visitors. Giuseppe Verdi came to see him there and was deeply saddened by his colleague’s condition.
Friends in Bergamo finally arranged for Donizetti to be brought back to his hometown. He stayed there as a guest at Baroness Scotti’s palace until his death in 1848 at 52. He now rests near the grave of his teacher and patron Johann Simon Mayr.
For tickets, call (937) 228-SING (7464) or go to www.daytonopera.org for more information.
Performances are sung in French and subtitled in English.
Reach DCP freelance writer Eric Street at