Daughter of the Regiment
For their final production of the 2014-15 season, Palm Beach Opera presented Gaetano Donizetti's 1840 opera comique "La fille du regiment," also known as "The Daughter of the Regiment."
This opera was written while Donizetti was living in Paris and was his first opera set to a French text. It tells the story of a young girl of questionable parentage who is raised by a regiment of the French army. The army is fighting in the Tyrols -- what is now part of Switzerland -- and this regiment, the 21st, is there to restore order.
Marie, the orphan girl who considers the regiment members to be her fathers, of course meets a young Tyrol man, Tonio, and falls in love with him. We also find out that she is not only a Tyrol herself but the niece of the Marquise of Birkenfield. Much hilarity and ridiculous situations ensue before the couple is allowed to unite.
This opera is famous for its act tenor aria "Ah! Mes amis quell jour de fete" which, in its cabaletta has nine high Cs right in a row for the tenor to hurdle. The opera also requires a very agile coloratura soprano to sing the role of Marie and for all its comedy, is actually a very vocally complex piece of music.
The cast for Saturday's performance featured a member of the Palm Beach Opera Young Artist program, Bridgette Gan, stepping into the role of Marie in place of another soprano who was ill.
Gan came in and gave a tour de force performance as Marie. Her voice has a rich tone with sparkling high notes. Her first aria, "Chacun le sait, Chacun le dit," was beautifully sung and her second act show pieces, the melancholy "Par le rang et par l'opulence" and the rousing "Salut a la France," were just as expertly and artfully sung. Gan delivered a vocally beautiful and consistent performance.
In the role of Tonio, tenor Andrew Bidlack was charming, comical and handsome. Bidlack was seen two years ago as Tamino in Florida Grand Opera's "Die Zauberflote." His voice is very pretty but he does not seem entirely comfortable with the high Cs and C sharps that the role of Tonio demands. Character wise, he was a perfect fit and he seemed to have a nice chemistry with Gan.
In the comic role of the Marquise of Berkenfield, mezzo soprano Judith Christin was memorable both for her acting as well as the extreme lower register notes that the role requires.
Baritone Peter Strummer played Sargent Sulpice and was another comic joy on the stage with the romantic couple.
In the smaller role of the corporal, young artist Jason Duika's baritone voice stood out to great advantage.
The sets and costumes were designed by Beni Montresor and were originally constructed for Edmonton Opera. The sets had a comic book feel to them and were bright and colorful as were the costumes.
Director Dona D. Vaughn had some hits and misses with this production. She handled some of the comic moments, particularly the act two lesson scene, very well. However when it came to large group scenes, particularly when the regiment was on stage, things seemed to lack real direction or characterization among the actors and singers on stage. It is always instantly recognizable to the audience when a chorus member doesn't really have a feeling or understanding for his character and is just standing in place.
Guest conductor Antonino Fogliani conducted an emotional and thrilling overture but then proceeded to allow the orchestra to overwhelm the singers at several points in the performance. The balance that one expects between orchestra and singers was only rarely there.
This is an opera where other numbers are often inserted to add to its length. Famed soprano Lily Pons would often add in an excerpt for "Lucia di Lammermoor," another Donizetti opera, after the "Salut a la France" to further show off her coloratura skills, and such add-ins are typical. In this case Gan did not add in an aria but a song was given, instead, to the normally speech only role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp.
The role of the Duchess was played by Broadway veteran Judy Kaye and the decision was made to add in Stephen Sondheim's imitation Viennese waltz song "I Never Do Anything Twice." While Kaye's performance was solid and comic, the 20th century song was jarringly inserted into the 19th century Donizetti opera and, as the only number sung in English and with amplification, seemed out of place. Kaye, however, did receive substantial applause at the end of the opera.
While this production of "Daughter of the Regiment" suffered from a few flaws, over all it was an enjoyable evening and Gan's performance as Marie was a great star turn for this young singer who has a world of potential in front of her.
"La fille du regiment" played through March 22 at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd. in West Palm Beach, FL 33401. For tickets and information about upcoming Palm Beach Opera performances and events, call 561-833-7888 or visit pbopera.org.