Donizetti’s La fille du régiment entertains at the Met

Donizetti’s La fille du régiment, like his two other comedies* in the standard repertory, is a story ultimately with a happy ending, but touched by sentiment and sadness along the way. Set here at the time of the Great War, the orphaned infant Marie was found and adopted by the French 21st Regiment. They consider themselves her collective ‘father’ and, like all good fathers, they are protective, especially given that Marie, now of age, has been seen in the presence of a handsome young man. The soldiers capture Tonio, a Tyrolean, who, it turns out, is this very same handsome young man! He’s out and about in search of her because, because, because they love each other!

The good fathers keep a watchful eye over their daughter. Tonio is on the right.

The good fathers keep a watchful eye over their daughter. Tonio is on the right.

Well, good fathers also have rules, one here being that Marie must marry a soldier from the 21st. Tonio promptly joins up and is excited when he learns that the fathers consent, an excitement very obvious because he sings lots of thrilling show stopping high notes. I’m still hoarse these days later from shouting Bravo! Bravo!

Javier Camareno is a joyful Tonio. The fathers are lying low.

Javier Camareno is a joyful Tonio. The fathers are lying low.

But alas, Marie is shocked to find she is actually the long lost daughter of the “late sister” of la marquise de Berkenfeld; la marquise, en route to Vienna, has come to find the grown infant, retrieve her, civilize her, and ultimately to marry her into wealth. Sadly, Marie leave must leave the man she loves, all of her fathers, and her former life behind. We feel her pain.

Marie draws in her last load of laundry before leaving the Regiment

Marie draws in her last load of laundry before leaving the Regiment

Worse, things don’t go so well for her in Act II either: Marie is not taking to the ballet lessons and is so upset at her vocal lessons she intentionally sings off pitch or, worse, at the slightest temptation from Sgt. Sulpice, breaks off into a phrase or two from her vivandière playlist of the past, all to the infuriation of la marquise!

All works out in the end, and delightfully so in this season’s revival of Laurent Pelly’s production, new in 2008. Like all Pelly productions, of late Massenet’s Cendrillon (new last season) and, a few years earlier, Manon, there is a kooky flair in the décor: the mountains of Tyrolean Alps are made of pages torn from a map, la marquise’s villa in, we assume, the mountains of Austria, are picture frames without pictures or walls to hang on. When Marie sings her Rataplans, two clotheslines of long johns “march” in behind her. At other times large postcards in the style of the era of the Great War come down from the proscenium to highlight a point or just to make us smile.

A Pelly production is choreographed too: he also pays frequent, not to say constant, attention to the movements of the principals and chorus. The soldiers of the 21st Regiment are sometimes headbobbing from the floor, marching sideways and forth in zigzagged patterns, all to the music. It’s a very entertaining production to watch, on top of the wonderful score and the bel canto fireworks.

This season sports a first rate cast. I was eager to hear soprano Pretty Yende again, charmed as I was by her Adina from L’Elisir d’Amore last winter. She sings in a way that communicates the soul of her character in the situation at hand, not just in a way that sounds elegantly beautiful, which, when she’s not rebelling in Act II, is throughout the evening. She also can be comic, her timing, facial expressions, exaggerations, all coordinated perfectly. Donizetti’s music, sung in context of Pelly’s very active stage directions, sets a high bar for the lead soprano:** the evening is a win for Pretty Yende. Brava!!

Javier Camarena*** is also a huge draw. He doesn’t disappoint: in addition to thrilling first and, this evening, encored execution of Pour mon âme quell destin! with its nine high Cs, he, I find, is quite touching in Pour me rapprocher de Marie, his plea to la marquise in the nearly final scene of Act II. Camarena simply exudes joy, sheer joy, thus making his scenes with Yende naturally happy, almost innocent. As with Nemorino and Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore, one really wants things to work out for the lovers.

Stepnanie Blythe and Kathleen Turner face off in  La fille

Stepnanie Blythe and Kathleen Turner face off in La fille

And then there is Stephanie Blyth to contend with. Again, she is the master of comic timing and delivery, as she was particularly as Madame de la Haltière in Cendrillon last season and Zita in Gianni Schicchi of Il Trittico earlier this season. Her scenes especially in the second act with noted film and stage actress Kathleen Turner, as la Duchesse de Crakentorp, were priceless. Plus Blyth has that marvelous voice as well.

Sgt. Sulpice is kindly and paternally played by veteran Alessandro Corbelli, striking up a believable bond between himself and Marie. Paul Corona is Hortensius, la marquise’s butler; Patrick Miller is a Townsman, more or less a lookout; Yohan Yi is a Corporal in the 21st; Yohan Belmin is the Notary preparing the marriage contract in Act II.

Enrique Mazzola conducts Donizetti’s delightful score. The Met’s male chorus as members of the 21st Regiment, executed their vocal and choreographic roles with precision.

Donizetti’s La fille du régiment is a gem and the Met’s production is a winner. Don’t miss it!

Review performance: Monday, February 11, 2019, the 111th performance.

Photos by: Marty Sohl.

* These are, of course, the much earlier L’Elisir d’Amore (an opera comica) and the not much later Don Pasquale (an opera buffa). La fille du régiment, on the other hand, was written to a French libretto in the form of an opéra-comique, complete with spoken dialogue. It premiered in Paris in 1840; so patriotic is it that it’s often given special performances on Bastille Day in France. When Donizetti introduced La fille to Italy as La figlia del reggimento (an opera buffa), he cut the famous Pour mon âme quell destin! with its nine high Cs. The Met’s 1940 broadcast of La fille du régiment with the great Lili Pons omits this as well, but adds La Marseillaise in support of the French troops at war with Germany.

** For me other sopranos as Marie at the Met include Joan Sutherland, June Anderson, Natalie Dessay, and Diana Damrau, each different, for sure, but each also special in her own way.

*** He is so especially after his performances here of Arturo in Bellini’s I Puritani and Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola, and then other Rossini operas on video from Zürich with Cecila Bartoli. Other Tonios in my years at the Met include Alfredo Kraus, Luciano Pavarotti, and Juan Diego Flórez.

Donizetti’s La fille du régiment is performed in two acts with one intermission. The running time of the HD performance is about two hours, forty minutes.

Never fails, once again the trip home is ahead of a major winter storm. Fortunately, it waited until Tuesday to hit the metropolitan area. Drive safely!

Cheers! OM