New York, Metropolitan Opera: “La fille du régiment”

New York, Metropolitan Opera season 2018/2019
Opera in two acts, libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François-Alfred Bayard.
Music by Gaetano Donizetti
Marquise de Berkenfield  STEPHANIE BLYTHE
Sergeant Sulpice  MAURIZIO MURARO
Hortensius PAUL CORONA
A Corporal  YOHAN YI
The Duchess of Krakenthorp KATHLEEN TURNER
Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
Conductor  Enrique Mazzola
Chorus Director  Donald Palumbo
Production  Laurent Pelly
Set Design  Chantal Thomas
Costumes  Laurent Pelly
Lighting Design Joël Adam
Choreography Laura Scozzi
Co-production of the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and the Wiener Staatsoper.
New York, 18 February, 2019
Of all Donizetti’s comic operas, La Fille du Régiment is the only one where the star soprano, not the tenor or the buffo, makes the show or breaks it. The hoyden raised by a regiment on the Napoleonic battlefields is a role great prima donnas have always treasured—they could shake themselves loose and send themselves up after too many tragic heroines. I never saw Joan Sutherland or Beverly Sills enjoy themselves quite so much on stage as they did when playing Marie, and that delight affected the abandon with which they tossed off her crazy trills, brassy war cries, battlefield marching songs and parodies of a proper young lady practicing in a salon. After Luciano Pavarotti’s day, this soprano vehicle became known as a tenor showpiece as well, and in recent years the mezzo Marquise and even the Duchess (who had two spoken lines in the original text) have expanded to prima donna proportions. If you’ve got the singers and can hold the muggers within bounds, the piece is sure fire, a delightful puff of air on the serious lyric stage.
The current Metropolitan revival (of the production created for Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez back in 2007) maintains its morale around the duo of Pretty Yende and Javier Camarena, who have previously appeared together in New York in Il Barbiere, I Puritani and L’Elisir d’amore. They give every sign of enjoying the partnership, and the house dearly loves them. Then they are joined by Stephanie Blythe, whose comic timing has always been on point and whose magnificent mezzo is luxurious for this fondly foolish noblewoman-in-travail. Maurizio Muraro sings Sulpice without the bluster the lyrics imply: it’s smooth vocalism all the way. Yende, a slim, pretty woman, has a cool soprano with body to it—not a canary—thus she can handle roles like Elvira and Lucia. (I’d like to hear her as Semiramide or Mathilde someday.) The top seems to take a scene or two to warm up, but the middle of her voice is a thing of great, suave beauty, and in time the upper register warms to its task. There were wonderful ornaments, including a legato two-octave descending scale, sung on a breath, all the more remarkable for being performed as she reclined in mid air, held aloft by the soldiers. The staging was designed for Dessay at her most frenetic, fluttery, power-drill, but Yende eschews those excesses and makes the part her own, vivid, self-willed and sentimental. Javier Camarena no longer possesses the velvet of his initial Met season, when his Elvino and Don Ramiro left us gasping with admiration. But the silvery elegance remains, and he has the loftiness that arouses innovations. He aced the nine high C’s of “Pour mon âme” and nine more in that (all but inevitable) encore—the Met used to ban encores, and they make audiences work to get them, but why fly in the face of enthusiasm? Camarena’s stage persona is boyish and bashful, reveling almost in astonishment when he can toss out a high D, as astonished as his Tonio appears to be to discover that Marie loves him. He sings with heart in his declaration of true love, although with far too much good taste to attempt a sob. Laurent Pelly’s production sets the opera in a comic opera World War I, perhaps appropriately in the season of Versailles’ centennial, and it does not interfere in the least with the improbable story of battlefield romance in which no blood whatsoever is shed. Enrique Mazzola does a sprightly job racing through the score, but Yende gets to sigh with “Il faut partir.” The Met chorus have their usual fun whenever they get the chance. Score, singers, jokes and all, this is really the best musical comedy on any stage in New York at the moment. Marie is far more credible than that jumped-up flower girl going for accent lessons next door to the Met. Photo Marty Sohl / Met Opera