The Daughter of the Regiment
As much high jinks as high Cs, Donizetti's La Fille du regiment is opera comique at its fluffiest, revived whenever a coloratura soprano with superb vocal control and acting talent happens along. Elizabeth Futral, whose dazzling Lucia enthralled Vancouver audiences two seasons ago, wowed them again in Vancouver Opera's charming chocolate-box production of this durable comedy dating to 1840.
Elizabeth Futral's effortlessly shaped high notes, trills, and glissandi displayed a voice in exquisite state. Although this was her debut performance in this role, she delivered it like the proverbial trooper, with dashes of Anne of Green Gables and Annie Oakley tossed in. An unerring sense of comic timing and a convincing tomboy swagger were put to good use, and "Salut à la France" gave an adrenalin rush both on its first outing and reprised in the finale. That said, the evening's undoubted highlight was Marie's doleful adieu to Tonio--this flossy opera's only dark moment--and it made one long to hear Madame Futral in a tragic role.
John Tessier's Tonio was no less convincingly acted and no less well sung. He delivered the famous "Ah, mes amis," with its nine high Cs, with panache and gusto, and more idiomatically, if with not quite the same "gotcha" decibel power, than "The Big Lucy" (Pavarotti). In robust good voice as Sulpice, Thomas Goerz turned in a finely-honed comic performance, conveying just the slightest hint that his own generous heart had an unrequited hankering for Marie. And who could blame him?
Comedy, being the evening's bill of fare, the audience was well served by Nancy Hermiston's characterful Marquise de Birkenfeld (or Birkenstock, as one of the best of the throwaway jokes had it). She was more than ably supported by the two actors' in deliciously over-the-top performances. Denis Simpson's campy, polished Hortentius had a knowing edginess, and Nicola Cavendish, in plummy tones and with right-on comic timing, blossomed like an overblown orchid as the scene-stealing Duchesse de Crackenthorp.
Leslie Uyeda had obviously prepared the members of the chorus to within an inch of their lives, and it delivered nobly, and acted well, as Marie's collective "father." Steven White elicited brisk, spritely work from the orchestra, and recalling another famous wife-husband team, Sutherland and Bonynge, who gave the opera its lease on life in the 1960s and 1970s.
The sets emphasized the fantasy world Donizetti's music conjured up, the use of a double stage and framing underlining the artificiality and predictability of a silly but engaging plot far from our own workaday concerns. The costumes were a bit on the garish red side, given the already highly coloured backdrop, and the Tyrol seemed a province of southern Spain rather than prim Switzerland.
The only really sour note of the production was tasteless, even vulgar, stage business that twice ruthelessly destroyed musical effect. The dance at the Marquise's chateau was ruined by a silly pas-de-deux front centre. More offensive still was the diffusion of concentration of Marie's soulful second act aria during which she was forced to interact with needlessly present servants fussily moving furniture about. This bit of nonsense also served utterly to blot out the superbly played lamento of the cello. Prima la musica--puh-leeze!
General Director James Wright's plans to raise the company's artistic level are clearly succeeding, and with productions like this and the fine recent Aïda, Vancouver Opera is very clearly on its way up--and up--in an art form where the sky's the limit. The extension of his contract ought to be celebrated with dancing in the street.
The Daughter of the Regiment runs at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on 23, 26, 28, and 30 November at 20.00. Tickets $12 to $115 from Ticketmaster or by phone at 604.280.3311. Rush seats on Tuesdays. For more information http://www.vanopera.bc.ca
© 2002, JH Stape