A roundup of reviews of this season’s Santa Fe Opera productions
Force-fed fun: La fille du régiment
Santa Fe Opera’s 59th season opened with the company’s first-ever production of Donizetti’s La fille du régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment), and the overriding theme of the evening was how ardently director Ned Canty wants everyone to know that it is a comedy. The plot stops just a step short of The Pirates of Penzance: An infant adopted by a jolly French regiment is raised to womanhood, falls in love with a Tyrolean mountain lad, and can only realize her heart’s desire if she, abetted by her boyfriend and the regiment, can overcome the highfalutin demands of the noblewoman who is revealed as her birth mother.
Overall, the tale is preposterous enough and the tunes sufficiently sparkling to leave no doubt that we are supposed to smile through it all, but Canty seems to believe that viewers will miss the point if he doesn’t fill every moment with shtick. It is rare for anyone to sing or say anything without sharing the moment with someone else’s antics. The staging involves a relentless succession of people prancing about waving flags, hoisting guns or glasses, and stepping on one another’s toes.
The exhausting result distracts from the meat of the matter, which is of course the singing. The reason to attend this one is tenor Alek Shrader, as the Tyrolean suitor Tonio. He is the only singer in the cast whose voice can be described as truly sonorous; there is no overlooking that his is a serious instrument. The part of Tonio’s aria “Ah! mes amis” in which he pops out nine high C’s in short order has become Shrader’s calling card, and he did just manage them on opening night, even with ringing, sustained security in the ninth. What really set Shrader apart in this cast was that his voice is capable of expressive color. It was here that this production found its real humanity.
The rest of the cast was adequate if not inspiring. Soprano Anna Christy, as the central character of Marie, was a pleasantly chirpy soubrette, but the comparison with Shrader’s vocal expressivity did not fall in her favor. She nonetheless provided enjoyable listening, if one tired of how heavy-handed of American Midwest vernacular intruded on her spoken sections (which are in English). Kevin Burdette, as Sulpice, the regiment’s sergeant, brought a character singer’s light basso to the part. Mezzo-soprano Phyllis Pancella was solid as the Marquise of Berkenfeld, and veteran house mezzosoprano Judith Christin lent haughty authority to the brief, non-singing role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Speranza Scappucci conducted securely from the pit.
Cluttered and hyperactive as this “more-is-more” production is, it is likely to amuse viewers who enjoy a sitcom sensibility.
Additional performances of “La fille du régiment” take place at 8 p.m. on Aug. 8, 12, 20, 26, and 29.