One question I often hear when I tell people that I direct and choreograph both operas and musicals is, “Which do you prefer?” The truth is, I don’t approach either genre with a mindset that’s wildly different. Both always require a thorough examination of the score and libretto, attention to character and situation, clear storytelling, and an appropriate movement language (this last element is usually the one that gets me the job). For me, they both present a number of challenges that when resolved, can result in exhilarating theatre. And as opera and Broadway houses expand their boundaries into new territories, we see the genre lines continue to blur. Of course, without opera, there would be no musicals, and Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment is a glorious example of how the long life of one art form eventually leads to the birth of the other.
While most think of Lucia di Lammermoor or The Elixir of Love when they hear Donizetti’s name, The Daughter of the Regiment is a masterful example of a bel canto “fish out of water” comedy. The heroine Marie is constantly trying to find herself while also striving to please her guardians. Although she loves military life, her gender prevents her from becoming a soldier, and when she is swept into the refined pomp of the Marquise, she can’t quite shake her tomboyish leanings either. This struggle between her two contrasting worlds results in a lot of unfortunate hilarity for Marie, but in the end, she finds happiness and true love. In some ways, this sounds a bit like the journey of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady or Victoria Grant in Victor/Victoria, and the dialogue is similar to that in later operettas like The Merry Widow and the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.
But the element that sets The Daughter of the Regiment apart from all the other works I have compared it to is undoubtedly the difficulty of its score. Though the subject is light, the demands placed on the singers are as high as can be found in Mozart or Rossini.
What all of this boils down to for me is that the rewards of collaborating with an operatic company of artists like you will see at this performance are just as satisfying as those of their musical theatre counterparts, many of whom, like me, do both. I love presenting my casts with staging challenges and then seeing them accomplish things they weren’t aware they could. What I learn from one production, whatever the genre, inevitably fuels all the ones that follow it. There will no doubt be a number of influences you will see in this production from as varied a source as the madcap hysterics of L’Italiana in Algeri to the marching hopefuls in The Music Man. For whether I’m working on Bernstein or Bizet, Strauss or Sondheim, my job is essentially the same, and ultimately just as fun.
John de los Santos