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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Opera Review: Fabulously Butch

Fabulously butch: Diane Damrau as Marie


Photo by Mary Altaffer © 2010 Metropolitan Opera.
La Fille du Régiment at the Met

The final La Fille du Régiment of this season was a cause for operatic celebration, bringing together two great generations of singers. In the leading roles, tenor Juan Diego Flórez and soprano Diana Damrau treated listeners to an amazing aural fireworks display. But they were equalled by what may be the final appearance of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa on the Met stage, as the legendary soprano took the comic role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp.

Donizetti's first French opera requires tremendous vocal firepower. The tenor role of Tonio includes a difficult aria ("Ah, mes amis") with eight written high C's. Tenors traditionally sing nine, as Flórez did on Monday night. The Peruvian singer has been a welcome addition to the Met stage in recent years, with his tremendously sexy stage presence, natural acting ability and good comic timing.

 Then there is that voice--nimble, flexible and fearless through the dizzying tenor roles of Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini. He is the most important bel canto voice since Pavarotti. One hopes that he is sensible in the use of his remarkable gift and does not try to push his repertorial choices in the name of greed.


The title character is a bel canto heroine with astonishingly difficult, high-lying music to sing. Diana Damrau's portrayal was more than just a military canary mascot--she played Marie as a full-blooded, complex woman with genuine gender issues brought on by her upbringing as part of a French military regiment. When she came onstage in a dress in the second act, the effect was almost shocking. Damrau handled the rough-and-tumble drawing room comedy with same efficiency with which she washed drawers and peeled potatoes in the first act. Damrau also boasts incredible vocal gifts. Her patriotic arias were stirriing, and her Act II cavatina melted the heart.

Dame Kiri received an enthusiastic welcome as she entered at the start of Act II. The applause grew warmer when the audience realized that the great New Zealand soprano was about to sing. Her choice was the "Canción al árbol del olvido", a lovely 1938 song by Ginastera. Written 100 years after the premiere of this opera, it went surprisingly well with the rollocking Donizetti score. The great diva engaged in some comic business as well, and tossed off a memorable high note as her character rushed offstage at the opera's conclusion.


One more time! Juan Diego Flórez sings "Ah, mes amis" at the Vienna State Opera.
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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.