Monday, August 3, 2015

Daughter of the Regiment

Seeing tonight's performance of Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment at the Santa Fe Opera completes my trifecta--now, and with tomorrow night's Rigoletto here, I've managed to attend the three great U.S. summer opera venues: Santa Fe, St. Louis, and Glimmerglass (Cooperstown). It was a delightful evening, that maximized the opera bouffe character of Donizetti's work.

Kevin Burdette as Sgt. Sulpice was the pillar of the comedy as he danced, mugged, twisted, and, yes, sang his way to the audience's delight, fully deserved. Anna Christy in the title soprano role looked more, both in Act I military uniform and Act II aristocratic heir, like Olympia the doll in Act I of Tales of Hoffmann. Alek Shrader has a fine tenor that made his performance as Tonio. Phyllis Pancella, the veteran mezzo who joins hands with Sulpice at the end, lent her part, the Marquise of Berkenfeld some gravitas as well as humanity that it has often lacked in other productions.

For me, Santa Fe has the right idea in emphasizing the comic qualities of the opera which premiered at Paris's Opera-Comique. It's been more than half a lifetime since I was ever so lucky to see the incredible production at the Metropolitan in 1972, which starred no less than Joan Sutherland. As always, Sutherland made the coloratura singing look easy and her famously large frame looked great in a military uniform; she submitted to looking fairly ridiculous in her Act II gowns when transported to the Marquise's chateau.

Sutherland's most marvelous gift, though, in addition to her always glorious singing, was bringing along a then-little-known Italian tenor for his Met debut, a triumphant one, needless to say: Luciano Pavarotti. While Shrader could match Luciano's famed performing the nine high C's in Donizetti's score for the tenor's big aria, he could not equal the presence and beauty of Pavarotti's voice that was sprung then upon America for the first time.

It was pleasing to read the recounting of that great debut in the feature article in the Santa Fe program. The pre-performance lecturer, a former radio host of opera programs on New York's  WQXR, neglected to mention it, somehow managing to give some of the interesting history of the opera's performances in the U.S. and leaving out its finest moment.


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