Gaetano Donizetti's music is a triumph of the human spirit. In a short, tragedy-filled life (including the premature death of his wife, their three children and his own descent into illness and insanity), he wrote some of the most vibrant, charming, delightful operas – and those are just the comedies among 75 operas written during 27 years.
San Francisco Opera opened 1840’s "The Daughter of the Regiment" on Tuesday in a new, wonderfully musical production that does justice to the effervescent comedy.
The thin story about a tomboy raised by soldiers, fighting her way to romance and happiness, is lifted by memorable melodies and rhythms; there is no need "to whistle the sets," meager as they are.
Kudos are in order for many involved, but Diana Damrau's San Francisco debut in the title role is the one to treasure most.
A blend of Beverly Sills and Carol Burnett (with a Pippi Longstocking 'do), the tiny coloratura raced about several marathons' worth, and was "on" pretty much every minute of the two-and-a-half-hour evening, singing brilliantly. She’s now among the chosen artists warmly adopted by the War Memorial audience.
Juan Diego Flórez repeated his much-heralded Metropolitan Opera triumph as Tonio, except he performed the nine-high-C aria only once; locals here didn't live up to the Met audience's persistence in "making" him repeat "Ah! mes amis."
Matching Damrau in stature and energy, Flórez also did an excellent acting job. Yet, slightly overwhelmed by stage business, the pair didn’t quite convey the chemistry that the couple should have.
In another local debut, Bruno Pratico inhabited the role of Sulpice with relish, making the best of a voice with limited projection.
On the other hand, Meredith Arwady's Marquise blasted the huge theater, in a good way. Judging by a hilarious excerpt from the role opening night, Arwady's upcoming Delilah will be a sensation.
Sheila Nadler's Duchess was a hoot.
The U.S. debut of conductor Andriy Yurkevych turned out well, after an uncertain overture. The orchestra pretty much disappeared the rest of the evening – another good thing.
Ian Robertson's Opera Chorus sang loud and clear, and very much in French.
The Laurent Pelly production (a joint effort with the Met, Vienna State Opera and Covent Garden) is quite hyper; in local associate director Roy Rallo's hands, the excesses were played up and no shtick went without amplification.
Yet that didn't matter. With Donizetti's spirit, fabulous vocal performances and Damrau's athleticism, a mighty good time was had by all.
The Daughter of the Regiment
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 16 and 31; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19, 22 and 28; 2 p.m. Oct. 25
Tickets: $15 to $310
Contact: (415) 864-3330; www.sfopera.com