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This new CD of a very well-known opéra comique is a live recording of a quite successful production of the 2021 Donizetti Festival in Bergamo. The listener can hear the laughs and the applause by the audience but cannot see the most innovative aspects of the performance. It was a joint venture between the yearly Donizetti Festival and the Cuba Opera Company. Thus, the action was set not in Tyrol while under the occupation of the Napoleonic Armies but in Cuba at the start of the revolution. The stage direction by Luis Ernesto Doñas, the colourful sets by Angelo Sala and the accurate lighting by Fiammetta Baldisseri were determinants of the success of the production. They can be glanced at in the photos of the booklet included in the CD box. They can be better appreciated on a DVD issued almost in parallel with the CD.
La fille du régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment) is an opéra comique in two acts by Gaetano Donizetti, set to a French libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard. It was first performed on 11 February 1840 by the Paris Opéra-Comique at the Salle de la Bourse.
The opera was written by Donizetti while he was living in Paris between 1838 and 1840 preparing a revised version of his then-unperformed Italian opera, Poliuto, as Les martyrs for the Paris Opéra. Since Les martyrs was delayed, the composer had time to write the music for La fille du régiment, his first opera set to a French text, as well as to stage the French version of Lucia di Lammermoor as Lucie de Lammermoor.
La fille du régiment quickly became a popular success partly because of the famous aria Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!, which requires the tenor to sing no fewer than eight high Cs – a frequently sung ninth C is not written.
The aria has been called the Mount Everest for tenors. Luciano Pavarotti broke through to stardom via his 1972 performance alongside Joan Sutherland at the Met, when he leapt over the 'Becher's Brook' of the string of high Cs with an aplomb that left everyone gasping. More recently, in a 20 February 2007 performance of the opera at La Scala, Juan Diego Flórez sang Ah! mes amis, and then, on popular demand, repeated it, breaking a La Scala tradition against encores that had lasted nearly three-quarters of a century.
As a non-singing role, the Duchess of Krakenthorp is often played by non-operatic celebrities, including actresses such as Dawn French, Bea Arthur, Hermione Gingold and Kathleen Turner, or by retired opera greats such as Kiri Te Kanawa and Montserrat Caballé. In 2016, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a lifelong opera fan, played the Duchess on opening night of the Washington National Opera's production. Today, the opera is frequently performed to the point that it has become part of the standard repertoire.
Let us now come to the CD. It has all the strengths and weaknesses of a live, not a studio, recording. The conductor Michele Spotti is a Donizetti specialist, often on the podium at the annual Bergamo Festival. The listener can sense immediately the brilliant conducting of the overture and of the orchestral entr'acte.
Listen — Donizetti: Overture (La fille du régiment)
(CDS7943.02 CD1 track 1, 2:06-3:05) ℗ 2022 Dynamic Srl :
The two protagonists - Marie and Tonio - are fresh and youthful from their first long duet.
Listen — Donizetti: De cet aveu si tendre (La fille du régiment)
(CDS7943.02 CD1 track 13, 0:35-1:26) ℗ 2022 Dynamic Srl :
Sara Blanch is a young lyric soprano who is making a good career; she has already been invited to the Salzburg Festival. She has an excellent coloratura and good phrasing; just listen to her long and complex aria in the second act.
Listen — Donizetti: Salut à la France ! (La fille du régiment)
(CDS7943.02 CD2 track 10, 0:38-1:33) ℗ 2022 Dynamic Srl :
John Osborn is fifty years old but has been able to maintain a good voice, and excellent thrill so as to handle the several high Cs in Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête – an aria, I would add, that very few tenors dare to cope with.
Listen — Donizetti: Ah! mes amis (La fille du régiment)
(CDS7943.02 CD1 track 17, 1:03-1:58) ℗ 2022 Dynamic Srl :
The others are of good festival standards: Paolo Bordogna as Sulpice is a veteran of the role; Adriana Bignani Lesca (as La Marquise) is a good mezzo able to descent to an alto register; Cristina Bugatty is a good actress (in the not-singing part of La Duchesse). The La Scala Academy Chorus is quite effective.
In short, even though there are better CDs of La fille du régiment, this is a good memory of a very good joint production.
Copyright © 6 October 2022
CD INFORMATION - DONIZETTI: LA FILLE DU RÉGIMENT