Met Live in HD presents ‘La Fille du Regiment’

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Pretty Yende as Marie and Javier Camarena as Tonio in Donizetti’s “La Fille du Régiment.” (Marty Sohl/Met Opera)

The Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD broadcast of Gaetano Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment,” a delightful romantic comedy about a young woman raised and adored by a French military regiment, will be presented at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center at 10:55 a.m. Saturday, March 2.

It is sung in French with English subtitles; total run time is 2 hours 35 minutes, which includes one intermission. Tickets are available at the door for $20 adults/$5 students/$10 college students, cash or check.

La Fille du Regiment debuted in Paris in 1840, one of the more famous of Donizetti’s 70-plus operas that he composed before he died of syphilis and insanity at about age 50. It is a bubbly comedy with a simple, charming plot. The score features virtuosic music in the bel canto tradition including jaunty military tunes, brisk comic numbers, sparkling arias, and graceful ensemble pieces. This production is by Laurent Pelly, who updated the setting to World War 1 in mountainous Tyrol in western Austria/northern Italy. A French military regiment adopted an abandoned baby and raised her; she becomes their “canteen girl” mascot. All is well until she feels the first stirrings of love. Once her true identity is revealed (of course, she’s a royal), all sorts of comedic complications ensue. And all ends happily — not something we usually experience at the end of operas.

Critics are going crazy over this one. OperaWire reports “La Fille du Regiment” is “one of the very best productions during [General Manager] Peter Gelb’s tenure at the Met” (since 2006), citing “excellence in all elements.” It considers this opera to be the perfect show for everyone. “For those unfamiliar with opera, it shows how fun it can be. For the opera-obsessed, it is impossible to ignore this incredible cast.” The New York Times deems the lead role in this opera “the Mt. Everest for tenors.” In fact, this is the opera that put a young Luciano Pavarotti on the map years ago. This production features Mexican tenor Javier Camarena, whom OperaWire considers to be “indisputably one of the best artists on the planet.” Earlier this month, his rendition of this opera’s famous aria “Ah, mes amis!” with its nine high Cs caused the audience to erupt with enthusiastic applause. Camarena and conductor Enrique Mazzola looked at each other and they DID IT AGAIN—an encore with another nine high Cs! The audience went nuts.

It is a credit to the rest of the cast that Javier Camarena did not steal the show completely. Marie, the grown-up orphan girl adopted by the regiment, is wonderfully sung by South African coloratura soprano Pretty Yende, whom HD audiences enjoyed last season in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore. Her so-called aunt, the Marquise of Berkenfield, is played by the commanding veteran mezzo, Stephanie Blythe. The regiment’s comedic Sergeant Sulpice is sung by Italian bass Maurizio Muraro, whom we saw as the Prince of Bouillon in Adriana Lecouvreur.

This opera features speaking lines in addition to the singing (something a bit unusual for operas) and is famous for one completely non-singing character — the Duchess of Krakenthorp — a role often filled by a celebrity (Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once did it in D.C.). The Met’s Peter Gelb convinced gravelly voiced actress Kathleen Turner — yes, the Kathleen Turner from “Body Heat,” “Prizzi’s Honor,” and “Peggy Sue Got Married” — to take on this role because, as he said, “we need someone with a strong enough voice who can hold her own with these opera singers.” Turner had never liked opera until recently because “I thought opera singers were terrible actors.” But she says the HD broadcast era has nudged opera singers into being much better actors. She agreed to play the comedic Duchess of Krakenthorp, her first foray into opera. She comes onstage near the end wearing a beautiful dress and delivers six lines, which are so well-done that she reportedly cracks up her cast mates during rehearsals.

Critics noted that Met audiences have been more engaged with this opera than any they have seen in a long time. All these reviews indicate that “La Fille du Regiment” is an opera not to miss.

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