Saturday, October 24, 2009
La Fille du Regiment with Les Enfants du Paradis
Some productions at the San Francisco Opera are better seen from the top balcony's standing room section rather than a good seat in the downstairs orchestra section. It is easier from far away to suspend disbelief while watching an older, hefty opera singer playing a slim, youthful character, and to ignore excessive mugging or a wooden performance. Above all, there is the sound which travels up from the stage, hits the roof and back wall of the last balcony, and then reverberates directly back into your ears with a clarity that is breathtaking. (Production photos below by Cory Weaver.)
I saw the fourth performance on Thursday evening of Donizetti's "The Daughter of The Regiment," an 1840 French operetta with dialogue, that particularly benefited from standing with the "children of the gods" for a couple of reasons. The set, consisting of huge topographical maps that created peaks and valleys, was perfectly beautiful from above. With OperaVision screens to our left and right, it was easy to confirm early reviews that there was a lot of overacting onstage, but it was easily ignored.
The real reason to be up there, however, is because the difficult-to-sing music is being performed at legendary levels by the debuting Diana Damrau as Marie and Juan Diego Florez as Tonio, two tiny singers in their prime with unbelievably supple and beautiful voices.
Florez is a known quantity, having already titillated New York Met audiences with 9 high C's in a row and then encoring the aria. Here he's matched and then some by Damrau in her role debut, who is asked to sing rambuctious marches, death-defying trills, and gentle arias one after the other. I was standing by an elderly gentleman who had seen everyone from Beverly Sills to Joan Sutherland in the role over the years, and his jaw literally dropped during the evening.
The opera was conducted by another beautiful young European, Andriy Yurkevych, the music director of the Ukranian National Opera, and he did a superb job, never letting the piece lag. The mostly male chorus was also excellent, particularly since they were choreographed all night to be in one absurd, painful position after another. Also standing out was contralto Meredith Arwady as a very funny rich aunt/mother with a bottomless voice.
There are three more performances: Sunday matinee at 2 on October 25, Wednesday at 7:30 on October 28, and Halloween night at 8. From the looks of Thursday evening's performance, they are not selling out, which is too bad. This is one of those productions where an elderly gentleman is going to be saying thirty years from now, "Ah, but you should have seen this with Damrau and Florez. Now that was something."