06 Feb 2013

Fille du Regiment from San Diego Opera

Born to a very poor family in 1797, Gaetano Donizetti was lucky enough to become the pupil of Johann Simone Mayr, the Maestro di Capella of his native city, who recognized his talent and made sure he received appropriate instruction.

As a young composer who came from a poor family, he had to accept every possible commission. In 1822, he began to produce light operatic comedies for Naples. Eventually, he began to write more serious works, but he had an immense gift for comedy as evidenced by works such as La Fille du Régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment), L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love), and Don Pasquale. In 1830, he had a major international success in Anna Bolena. After that he was invited to compose in other countries such as France, where the censors seemed easier to please. In 1838 he left Naples for Paris where, two years later, he produced a trio of successful operas to French texts, La Fille du Régiment, Les Martyrs, and La Favorite. He also did an Italian adaptation of La Fille for La Scala. In 1843, the first United States performance of the opera took place in French in New Orleans.

On January 29, 2013, San Diego Opera offered La Fille du Régiment as its first presentation of the season. Emilio Sagi’s production, originally seen at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, Italy, moved the time of the action from the nineteenth century to the twentieth, just after World War II. Instead of French soldiers in Austria, we saw American soldiers in France. Designer Julio Galán gave us a bombed out bar for Act I, and a luxurious salon for Act II. His costumes included many dull tan army uniforms, but there were more interesting outfits on the nobility in the second act. Slovakian coloratura soprano L’ubica Vargicovà who was seen in San Diego previously as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto, sang Marie. She has also sung the Queen of the Night in Los Angeles Opera’s The Magic Flute, so Marie’s high notes and fioritura held no terrors for her. She sang with great precision and showed excellent comic timing.

jkw_regiment012413_259.gifEwa Podleś is the Marquise de Birkenfeld

As her lover, Tonio, Stephen Costello once again showed us the warm, bright ringing tones of his tenor voice. San Diego has heard him as Romeo and Faust, but the role of Tonio is much more demanding than either. His virtuosic first act aria ‘Ah, mes amis,’ is well known for its nine high Cs and Costello hit each of them exactly in the center of the note, holding the last one with seeming ease. Naturally, the applause was deafening. For the rest of his role he was a charming lover who sang with exquisite lyric tones.

San Diego has heard Polish Contralto Ewa Podleś before, both in recital and in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, but this was her first foray into comedy there. Vocally, she showed the wide range of her color-filled contralto voice. She was hilariously funny when, wearing a gorgeous dark red costume, she quoted a line from Bizet’s Carmen. At the same time she brought out the Marquise of Berkenfeld’s importance in steering the plot toward its jubilant ending.

Opulent voiced American bass Kevin Burdette was an amusing but believable military officer who eventually won the heart of the most demanding, but secretly lonely, Marquise. Soprano Carol Vaness, who is doing more teaching than singing these days, played the speaking role of the Dutchess of Krakenthorp. It did not keep her from singing a phrase from San Diego’s next presentation, Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah, however, and that pleased her many fans in the audience. Malcolm MacKenzie was an entertaining Hortensio and Scott Sikon an impressive Corporal.

jkw_regiment012313_241.gifKevin Burdette is Sgt. Sulpice,L'ubica Vargicová is Marie and Stephen Costello is Tonio

The opera’s chorus under the direction of Charles Prestinari moved as individuals and maintained precise harmonies. In his San Diego Opera debut, Maestro Yves Abel conducted with suave French style that brought out the score’s tonal beauty. His brisk pacing that kept the tension tight. La Fille is best known for its uniquely difficult tenor aria, but it has much more to offer than that high wire act. It is filled with glorious music and charming situations that can be focused to amuse a particular audience. In this case the Act II guests, some of them major donors to the opera, were announced as local royalty to the great amusement of many in the audience who knew them personally. This Donizetti opera is perfection in operatic comedy and it was a wonderful start for San Diego Opera’s 2013 season.

Maria Nockin

Cast and Production

Marie: L’ubica Vargicová; Tonio: Stephen Costello; Marquise de Berkenfeld: Ewa Podleś; Sergeant Sulpice: Kevin Burdette; Corporal: Scott Sikon; Hortensio: Malcolm Mackenzie; Conductor: Yves Abel; Director: Emilio Sagi; Scenic and Costume Designer Julio Galán; Lighting Design: Marie Barrett.