Justice is served in comic opera Review

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, center, as the Duchess of Krakenthorp, and Deborah Nansteel as the Marquise of Berkenfield in Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera  “The Daughter of the Regiment.” Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, center, as the Duchess of Krakenthorp, and Deborah Nansteel as the Marquise of Berkenfield in Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera “The Daughter of the Regiment.”
Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO

At the end of election week, many at the opening night performance of Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment” at the Washington National Opera looked forward to a relaxing evening of opera and to the participation of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Her presence on the stage on Saturday caused a thunderous outburst of applause and shouts of “bravo” from the audience, which lasted for quite a while. She played the Duchess of Krakenthorp, a spoken part with a history of some improvisation and original script writing. Ginsburg and Kelley Rourke collaborated on the dutchess’ monologue.

Her lines included requesting the birth certificate of Marie, the foundling raised by a company of soldiers; and variations on the pronunciation of Krakenthorp, which elicited laughter from the audience. Ginsburg, among the most outspoken supporters and legal interpreters of women’s rights in our country’s history, was the perfect antidote (for this audience) to an election filled with misogynistic statements. The enthusiasm for her was not lost on those who were in the audience, and the bravos for Ginsburg were an affirmation of her importance and a sign that she is beloved by the people.

This opera is well known as a work of humor. The lead singers are historic in their vocal ability, beginning with tenor, Lawrence Brownlee (Tonio). His vocal range and quality are among the best in the world, perhaps in a century. Another great singer of our time, Juan Diego Florez who possesses a sweetness of tone and boyish quality, is known for this particular role, which few tenors can sing. Brownlee’s voice has a more burnished tone. He can move from sweetness to fine pianissimo to stentorian tones in the true bel canto manner. He has a voice which is already considered legendary.

The role of Marie was sung by Baton Rouge soprano Lisette Oropesa on opening night, and she was perfect in this role so closely associated with Beverly Sills and Dame Joan Sutherland. She sang flawless runs and coloratura, acted in the humorous tradition of Carol Burnett, moved like a prima ballerina, and used vocal coloring for best emotional effect. Her pianissimo, crescendo and decrescendo were breathtaking. Clearly, Oropesa is a rising star of opera. Fine performances and impressive singing from mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel (the Marquise of Berkenfield), and bass Kevin Burdette (Sulpice) were an added treat.

The production, including the colorful sets and costumes, movement and direction, made this a wonderful evening’s entertainment. Performances continue through Nov 20. If you missed Ginsberg’s performance, you will have to wait. Her program bio indicated that her plans include continuing as an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

Arnold Saltzman is a composer of symphonies and opera, an opera critic and rabbi-cantor.

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