WHAT DO YOU do when the love of your life is swept away by a big old auntie with a fortune, a hazy tale of connection to her and all sorts of plans to marry her to someone else? Why, you ambush the property with no less than a military tank. That is, after you’ve softened the hearts of the military men in the 19th century French army, the chaps fighting the Germans for possession of the Tyrol. That is, if you’re Tonio (Javier Camarena) and the love of your life is Marie (Pretty Yende).
Donizetti’s 1840 opera, La Fille du Régiment performed for the Met and as near as your nearest Cinema Nouveau is a total delight. Even if you are in an audience of one, you will weep and guffaw with the narrative of the work, in French, with English subtitles, as you give a standing ovation at the end. It is a joy from beginning to end, even if you do not know the opera at all beforehand.
South African soprano Yende takes this role of a tomboyish kinda gal with all her priorities in place and frustration and anger that she’s not afraid to use, and makes it her own. Her singing prowess coupled with her performance metamorphosises the comic 19th century girl caught in promises of marriage and without hurting the narrative, injects delicious sprinklings of isiZulu asides as she gives the character three dimensions in the realm of cheekiness, rebellion and utter lovability.
And Camarena is the darling of the audience as he is forced by virtual applause hysteria to give an encore half way through. The vocal capacity of both Yende and Camarena with all the highs and complicated structures of Donizetti’s score is breathtaking. But Yende and Camarena are not the only golden couple on stage in this utterly awe-inspiring work. With Stephanie Blythe as the Marquise of Berkenfield and Maurizio Muraro as Sulpice, the French sergeant who found Marie many years ago amid the cannonballs and corpses of battle, there’s a camaraderie which is infectious. That is, once the tale of love is used to soften hearts hardened with marital ambitions in the name of acquisitiveness.
The musical nuts and bolts of the opera under the jovial and energised baton of Enrique Mazzola is one thing, but the actual magic on stage is quite another; the two segue seamlessly. Director Gary Halvorson slides in much hilarity, with a troupe of geriatric wedding guests, the aforesaid tank, heaps of ironing and potatoes; and hills and vales made of maps. The stage is raked and there are playful gestures around scale that make the give and take between this opera, its nineteenth century context and its contemporary audience, integrated and real.
With visually satisfying choreography and period costumes it’s a delicious bit of frippery which presents a young woman raised by the army – almost like a child raised by wolves, and the fact of a whole garrison of daddies, just adds to the mix of happy madness. Stage and film actress Kathleen Turner is the Duchess of Krakenthorp, a dowager comparable to the Marquise in her send of grandeur, in a speaking-only role. And while she breaks her teeth on the French, it’s all in the fun of the work and her stage presence alone lends the role the faux gravitas necessary.
But when you allow your eyes to pan over the majestic space of the opera house itself, you feel quite overwhelmed at the sheer privilege of being able to be a part of this magic, from within the comfort of a movie house in your own city. It’s astonishing. A real treat.
- La Fille du Régiment is composed by Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) with libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges (1799-1875), and directed by Gary Halvorson for the Metropolitan Opera in London. It features a cast headed by Stephanie Blythe, Javier Camarena, Maurizio Muraro, Kathleen Turner and Pretty Yende. Produced and presented by the Met Live, it features creative input by Laurent Pelly (production and costume design), Laura Scozzi (choreography), Christian Räth (revival stage director), Chantal Thomas (set), Joël Adam (set) and Agathe Mélinaud (associate director/dialogue) and Enrique Mazzola (conductor). Release date in South Africa, through Cinema Nouveau, Ster Kinekor: March 30 2019, for a limited season.