By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka
Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment (The Daughter of the Regiment) is not among the great masterworks nor is it the very best work of the composer. But the comic opera does offer to the best singers in the operatic world a marvelous range of possibilities to display their wares. Its signature challenge goes to the tenor hero, “Tonio”, who must nail nine High Cs in the Act I aria, “Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!”. Lyric tenor Juan Diego Flórez accomplished this with the greatest of ease at the Opening Night performance of SF Opera’s current production. Given his historical repeat of the aria during La Scala’s 2007 season and again in April 2008 at the Metropolitan, there was a sense of anticipation that Flórez and conductor, Andriy Yurkevych might break all the rules and do it again. Although no insisting shouts of “Encore!” pierced through the overwhelming applause, Flórez delivered a sterling rendition of the aria so long associated with the incomparable Luciano Pavarotti. Much of the astonishment and sense of magic stems from the 36-year-old Peruvian-born singer’s compact stature and lightweight but brilliant vocal quality. Great things certainly do come in small packages and Donizetti has furnished Juan Diego Flórez the most golden of opportunities.
JUAN DIEGO FLÓREZ (as Tonio).
Photos, Terrence McCarthy and Cory Weaver
In the role of “Marie”, the collectively adopted daughter of France’s 21st Regiment, coloratura soprano Diana Damrau proves her comic abilities in this charming production directed by Laurent Pelly. Known for her performances as Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” and at the Metropolitan in the title role of Donizetti’s major heroine, “Lucia di Lammermoor”, Diana Damrau’s tomboy bravura had all the swagger and gruffness of an “Unsinkable Molly Brown” gone à la française.
Diana Damrau (Marie). Photo, Cory Weaver
The Daughter of the Regiment has always been appealing to lyric and coloratura sopranos including Lily Pons (who made her entrance on a white horse), Mirella Freni, Anna Moffo, Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills and, most recently, Natalie Dessay. Within the soprano’s three arias await a variety of optional, traditional and occasionally unbridled ornamentations – each according to the prima donna’s particular gifts and the sensibilities of the music director. Marking her debut with SF Opera, Ms. Damrau’s renditions were straightforward and the tempos beautifully paced by Conductor Yurkevych – also making his debut with the Company. Although her erect Pippi Longstocking pigtail was an annoyance both at the campsite and later in Act II at Marie’s ancestral estate, Diana Damrau is in great shape to handle the aggressive physical comedy and equally fetching in a fully-petticoated daywear gown (reminiscent of the Don Loper Salon) designed by Laurent Pelly.
Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, and Bruno Praticò (Sulpice). Photo, Cory Weaver
Previously seen as “Zita” in this season’s production of Gianni Schicchi, contralto Meredith Arwady was superb as Marie’s soon-to-be-exposed mother, “The Marquise of Berkenfeld”. Again, composer Donizetti knows how to create enduring box office appeal providing his opera is excellently cast. The volatility of Arwady’s lower register is truly amazing and the overall stretch of her range is powerful and warm. In view of the optionals, she was given the perfect moment to throw in the opening measures of Dalilah’s “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix”. Meredith Arwady is an alumna of the Merola Opera Program. She is a winner of the 2004 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, a recipient of the George London Foundation’s Kirsten Flagstad Award, first prize winner at the Licia Albanese/Puccini Competition, and was awarded both the inaugural Marian Anderson Prize and Richard Tucker Career Grant.
Meredith Arwady (The Marquise of Berkenfeld) and Jake Gardner (Hortensius). Photo, Cory Weaver
The stars of the show are its director and costume designer Laurent Pelly, set designer Chantal Thomas, and choreographer Karine Girard. The production works because the singers are meticulously directed through a libretto that is totally way-out-there. At first glance and last glance. The set is a clutter of folded mammoth-size maps which depict the story’s locales: a military stronghold somewhere in the Tyrolean Alps, and the well-groomed acreage of Berkenfeld Castle. That explains the lunacy. Pelly keeps his singers busy and their comic-timing razor sharp. Choreographer Karine Girard has the singers moving with precision, poise, and a point of view. Amazing.
Jake Gardner (Hortensius), Diana Damrau (Marie), Meredith Arwady (The Marquise of Berkenfeld), Juan Diego Flórez (Tonio), Bruno Praticò (Sulpice) and soldiers of the 21st Regiment.
Photo, Cory Weaver
The Daughter of the Regiment is a total circus – complete with an army tank ready to run over anything that stands in the way of True Love.
La Fille du Regiment plays:
JUAN DIEGO FLÓREZ – The Daughter of the Regiment. Photo, Ken Howard
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Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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