Saturday, February 8, 2014

Rataplan! Rataplan! Rataplan! or Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Your faithful servant and scribe has been working in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin. In February. Let me say it again: Wisconsin. Winter. Brrrrr!!!!!!

On Friday evening, February 7, 2014, I braved frigid temperatures to see Madison Opera's opening of Mr. Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment, or Daughter of the Regiment. The unlikely story (always a surprise in opera) about a young girl raised as a foundling by the men of a French military regiment in Tyrol has been a favorite of audiences since its premiere in 1840, and has been the proving ground of greats such as Luciano Pavarotti and Juan-Diego Florez for generations.  Friday night's performance was full of charm and vigor, and lacking only a tiny bit of polish. The charm was supplied by excellent principals Javier Abreu as Tonio, Catlin Cisler as Marie, and Nathan Stark as Sulpice, as well as an energetic men's chorus. 

Javier Abreu and Caitlin Cisler
Photo by James Gill Photography
Ms. Cisler's singing and characterization as Marie were good, and she made Marie's stratospheric range and long phrases seem easy. There were times, however--admittedly not many--when one wished for a clearer indication of Marie's thoughts and feelings. With a touch more vocal polish, and in the hands of a stronger director, this could be a singer who goes places.

Javier Abreu was full of bumpkin charm, and a joy to watch and hear. He accomplished Tonio's most difficult vocal moments with a casual ease, making the infamous high Cs of "Ah mes amis" seem like child's play.  (In fact, Mr. Abreu interpolated a high D at one point!) He is a small man--no problem, since most sopranos who sing Marie are also small--and I think the director missed a few opportunities for comic effect based on his stature. After all, this is sitcom stuff, not Masterpiece Theatre!

Nathan Stark as Sulpice
Photo by James Gill Photography
Nathan Stark, seen in these pages before [link], was clearly the most experienced of the three principals. Although more often than not tasked with portraying serious bass roles such as the Commendatore in Don Giovanni, Mr. Stark was perfectly charming as the oafish Sulpice, leader of the regiment that has raised Marie, and primary father figure to the lass.  He made Sulpice lovable, believable and amusing. One wonders whether singing basso buffo roles might prove to be a gold mine for Mr. Stark. He was certainly very successful with this one!

A little more polish would have made a good performance truly sparkle. Much of the responsibility for that deficit falls on the shoulders of director David Lefkowich.  With more specific guidance from a director, Ms. Cisler's already fine performance could have been quite good, and the male principals, already very good, could have been stellar. The principals--and the highly capable men's chorus--might have delighted the audience even more with more precise stage business. At times some principals and chorus members seemed to be standing about, waiting for what happens next. However, I should mention not everyone I speak with or read agrees with me, and the show certainly was not devoid of charm. My opera-going companion was in tears when Marie left her comrades to live with her aunt, the Marquise of Birkenfeld. 

The men's chorus, under the direction of Chorus Master Anthony Cao, was quite pleasing to the ear. The orchestra, under John DeMain, was a solid underpinning to the evening' events. (Considering the Tyrolean surroundings of Act I, of course there were horn solos, and nary a glack was heard.) 

One final note. I'm not a big fan of singing in the original language but speaking the dialogue in the local language, as Madison Opera chose to perform this opera. It should be all or nothing. Comedies like Daughter of the Regiment really should be performed entirely in the local language of the audience, with dialogue made timely and relevant, in this reviewer's humble opinion.

I can not fail to mention the stunning Capitol Theater in Madison's amazing Overture Center for the Arts. The Capitol Theater was a movie palace in its day, and has been renovated to its former glory, with rich draperies, beautiful architectural detail, and very comfortable seats. In size, in proportion, and in beauty, this theater is quite the fitting place for a gem of a show like Daughter of the Regiment

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