Friday, January 25, 2019

Gaetano Donizetti, La Fille du Régiment

I always think of Donizetti's operatic work as being a stark and somewhat weird dichotomy between on the one hand frothy comedies and on the other grim period dramas about the British nobility. That's not fair; he was very prolific and wrote a bunch of stuff that doesn't fall into either category. But WHATEVER! That's how I feel, and as we all know, our feelings are the most important thing. Feel free to guess which side this one falls on. There's going to be a new HD production in March, but I'm not going to be around to see that, so I saw this. Which also has the bonus of starring Natalie Dessay, the highlight of Ariadne auf Naxos, in the title role. La. One curiosity is that, unusually for an Italian opera, the libretto--as the title might've given away--is in French.

So...yup. This is some pretty silly stuff. The plot is extremely Gilbert-&-Sullivan-esque: the title fille, Marie, is an orphan who's been brought up by a bumbling French regiment. She's in love with a Swiss villager, Tonio (the ever-reliable Juan Diego Flórez), but will extremely minor complications and revelations about Marie's parentage keep them apart forever? The answer...may surprise you.

Yeah, I mean, it's fun, as well it should be, and there's some great music and impressive singing, as there should be. There's a famous aria--that first bought Luciano Pavarotti to fame, I am informed--where the tenor has to hit nine separate high C's; it's pretty awesome, even if I only have the vaguest idea of what that actually means. Also, it's fun watching Dessay and Diego Flórez acting goofy. There's some rah-rah stuff at the end about how great France is, which apparently made it popular there, but it's a little hard to see why, really; it's not like the regiment or anyone really does anything to show France being great. The production here is fairly minimalistic, by Met standards; it's fine, if, honestly, a little half-baked. There are giant maps of Europe in the background, which seem like they might be meant to make some sort of statement, but...don't, exactly. There's also a related thing where giant, old-fashioned cards appear, but it only happens TWICE in the whole show, and again, is really nothing. Apparently, the libretto has been slightly rewritten here, but it seems okay to me. The only thing that sort of rubbed me the wrong way was the duchess whose son Marie is supposed to marry. It's a spoken role that--here, at least; presumably not in the original--occasionally lapses into English. It's okay, but there's this...thing where, several times, she explains her son's absence by saying he's on the Olympic bobsled team. "Bobsled." So I guess someone thought that was funny, and not just distractingly weird? Well, no accounting for tastes.

So yeah. Fun. And yet, my god, it is so light. A New York Times review memorably declared it "so inconsequential that it makes Donizetti’s other great comedy, L’Elisir d’Amore, seem like Götterdämmerung," and that is...less of an exaggeration than you might think. It's perfectly agreeable to watch, and yet I can't help feeling like it's not quite providing all the necessary vitamins and minerals. One thing I like about opera is that, even in lighter stories, the better ones sort of resonate and stick in your head. This...doesn't, quite. L’Elisir d’Amore is definitely the superior work.


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