La fille du régiment: Metropolitan Opera 15 December 2011

My boss has a box at the Metropolitan Opera in the best section of the hall. So when he generously gave me the eight tickets for the box I called my friends who I knew would be interested and we all gathered to see La fille du régiment (Gaetano Donizetti with a French libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint Georges and Jean-François Bayard), a comic opera with dialogue, star-crossed lovers, nine high Cs in a tenor tour de force, and a diva’s cameo.

Before the show Binny, her husband, rtb, violaleeblue, and I had dinner at the Grand Tier located in the Met. Dinner was wonderful and that was helped along with two bottles of wine and fun conversation. During intermission we came back to our table for dessert and even though we had three extra people the staff accommodated us immediately and without fuss.

We got to the box, where Joe and his brother and sister-in-law were waiting, just before the overture started. I can’t even describe how incredibly close we were to the stage – it really is the perfect setting for viewing the opera.

The basic story is that an infant, Marie, is left with a French regiment and she grows up to be a tomboy (Nino Machaidze), who falls in love with Tonio (Lawrence Brownlee), a Tyrolese peasant. Since she promised to only marry someone within the regiment, Tonio joins the French Grenadiers. Meanwhile the Marquise de Birkenfeld (Ann Murray) and her steward Hortensius (James Courtney) need to make their way home and Sergeant Sulpice (Maurizio Muraro) accompanies them to keep them safe. Sulpice recognizes the name Berkenfeld from a letter left with the infant Marie and when he questions the Marquise she says that the girl is her sister’s long-lost daughter. She takes Marie with her to give her a proper education. A marriage is arranged between Marie and the Duke of Krakenthorp. Tonio asks the Marquise for Marie’s hand but is refused. The Marquise then confesses to Sulpice that Marie is actually her illegitimate daughter. Sulpice tells Marie, who agrees to do whatever her mother asks. The regiment bursts into the Marquise’s home to rescue their daughter. The wedding guests are horrified to learn that Marie was a canteen girl but Marie tells them how much she loves them and they love her and that she owes her life to the regiment. Her mother is so moved that she gives permission for Marie to marry Tonio.

The Duchess of Krakenthorp is played by Kiri Te Kanawa. This is a cameo with only a few spoken words but the diva performs an aria from Puccini’s Edgar and, of course, the audience went wild.

Brownlee hit all nine high Cs in “Ah mes amis” and overall gave a wonderful performance. Machaidze was light and funny and did what a coloratura soprano is supposed to do. Murray was marvelous in her haughty and overbearing ways. And Courtney and Muraro were funny and sweet and perfect support for the others.

The conductor, Yves Abel, did a terrific job leading the Met orchestra. The set designer, Chantal Thomas, also did a wonderful job. When the curtain opens the Tyrolese mountains are maps running up and down across the stage. In the second act the Marquise’s home is like a big canopy bed with a living room set inside it. And Tonio actually rolls in on a tank to rescue Marie. The production is by Laurent Pelly (also the costume designer) and he keeps it light and moving quickly – the almost three-hour production goes by very quickly. Laura Scozzi is the choreographer, Joël Adam the lighting designer, and Agathe Mélinand the associate director.

The Opera Critic has photos from this production and also has links to reviews from the NY Times and the Financial Times. The NY Times review is positive. The Financial Times review is everything that I hate about those who want to make opera seem like something that only the privileged few can understand. These are brilliant performers at the peak of their careers. The negative criticism is just showing off.

By Carene Lydia Lopez