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In Review > North America

La Fille du Régiment

PITTSBURGH
Pittsburgh Opera
5/2/15

It’s hard to believe, in the post-Pavarotti era, that when the Met revived Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment in 1940 as a vehicle for the beloved Lily Pons, the second half of the tenor’s “A mes amis” — the  cabaletta with the nine high Cs — was omitted, along with his second-act aria, “Pour me rapprocher,” reducing  almost to a secondary role the character of Tonio, sung by Raoul Jobin on that occasion.

There was nothing subordinate about Lawrence Brownlee’s contribution to Pittsburgh Opera’s production of the work. (seen May 2). The popular tenor seemed to relish every one of Tonio’s high notes, even adding a spectacular extra two Cs to the interpolated one at the end of the aria, to accommodate three syllables in the English translation of Ruth and Thomas Martin, “won my Ma(rie).” He also tossed off the now-obligatory unwritten C-sharp in the last line of “Pour me rapprocher,” as if it were the simplest thing in the world. He did this all with such effortlessness and ease that much of his virtuosity went by unnoticed.

In his remaining scenes, Brownlee participated as a solid member of the ensemble, enacting the Tyrolian peasant boy as a chubby, lovable puppy dog totally enamored with the spunky, sparkling and equally lovable Marie of Lisette Oropesa. Aided by Sean Curran’s effective staging and choreography, originally scene at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, both protagonists brought these cardboard figures to life with the innocent profundity of Peanuts characters. They might easily have traded places with Charlie Brown and Lucy, especially in their brightly vocalized Act I duet. Curran’s humor came through unforced, never imposed on the action for the sake of mere “schtick,” except for some mindless localisms imposed on the expanded role of the Duchess of Crackenthorp (area favorite Anna Singer, who had her turn with a well-received  rendition of Noel Coward’s “Don’t put your daughter on the stage”). 

For her own part, Oropesa’s Marie lacked neither virtuosity nor personality. With solid high notes, accurate coloratura and an endless supply of golden-age trills (I stopped counting after five), this endearing artist ran a vocal marathon that might have paralleled the physical feat she was preparing to run in Pittsburgh Marathon the next morning. Apparently untiring, she looked and sounded as fresh at the opera’s conclusion as she had been at her first entrance. With strikingly clear diction, she negotiated with facility not just the role’s vocal fireworks, but also the legato and tenderness of Marie’s slower solos, known in the original French as “Il faut partir” and “Par le rang.” 

And speaking of endurance, mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle, now seventy-five, portrayed the Marquise of Berkenfeld with consummate comedic expertise and prodigious vocal resources that would have been laudable in a singer half her age. Comic skills and experience were also manifest in the Sergeant Sulpice of Kevin Glavin, a basso buffo with a resonant voice that rang true in the delicious Act II trio with Marie and Tonio — a number that may have been a prototype for the Bell Trio in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. With less to sing but still a considerable amount of time on stage, resident artist Phillip Gay made his presence sharply felt as the Marquise’s servant Hortensius. 

The male chorus, well-prepared by Mark Trawka, was another positive presence throughout the show. The orchestra under Antony Walker sounded particularly good in the Overture, with admirable solo playing by principal horn Evan Joseph Geiger, and later in the opera on English horn by Cynthia Anderson. spacer 

ROBERT CROAN

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