We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


Maria Brea and Jacopo Buora (photo by Jen Joyce Davis)

We find no shortage of Stars of Tomorrow in the opera universe. What we don't find in sufficient number are the audience members of tomorrow who will be there to listen to them. Therefore we make considerable efforts to bring young people to the opera. We love demolishing their prejudices--"Opera is stuffy, boring and irrelevant" is commonly heard. If we choose wisely, it turns out that the newbie is won over.

What better way to introduce someone to opera than at a Prelude to Performance event!  What better opera than Donizetti's comic masterpiece La Fille du Regiment! It doesn't come to mind as a "starter opera" as readily as some others but it seemed to be the perfect choice, what with its young cast, its frothy melodies, and its romantic plot.

Premiered in 1840 by L'Opéra Comique, the work took no time in making its way to New Orleans and then to New York. Although the master at some point created an Italian version with recitativi replacing the spoken dialogue, it is the French version we hear today. We remember with affection Natalie Dessay cartwheeling her limber frame across the stage of The Metropolitan Opera with Juan Diego Florez nailing the nine high C's. And that was in 2007!

Last night at Prelude to Performance we heard a superb cast bring the work to vivid life. As the titular character, Venezuelan coloratura soprano Maria Fernanda Brea created a lovable tomboy (minus the cartwheels) and sang the fioritura with accuracy and style. Her affection for all her "fathers" in the 21st regiment was convincing.

As Sergeant Sulpice, Italian bass-baritone Jacopo Buora created a fine figure of a Frenchman and employed his generous instrument with humor and affection. His duet with Marie in Act I "Mais, qui vient?" was charming.

Soon we were introduced to the local Tyrolean Tonio, portrayed by tenor Spencer Hamlin. Although suspected at first of being an enemy spy, he soon wins acceptance when he establishes himself as the man who rescued Marie from peril. He and Marie also have a lovely duet in which they profess their love. Tonio joins the French (the politics here are rather shaky but irrelevant) and, having been accepted, expresses his joy in the famous aria "Ah, mes amis". Mr. Hamlin attacked the nine high C's with aplomb and not a hint of pushing, bringing down the house, so to speak.

Of course, complications ensue.  Marie is the long-lost illegitimate daughter of the Marquise de Berkenfield. One could not imagine a better performance than that of Karolina Pilou, endowed with a very substantial mezzo and an impeccable sense of comic timing. Her equally amusing steward Hortensius was portrayed as a fussy fop by excellent baritone John Callison, almost unrecognizable in his elaborate get-up.

The veteran soprano Lucine Amara was on hand for the speaking role of La Duchesse de Krakenthorp, on hand to contract marriage for Marie with her nephew. The Marquise has been grooming Marie for an unwanted aristocratic life and the efforts and results are hilarious, giving us a second act filled with great music and dramatic reversals.

Laura Alley's stage direction was just as astute as we have come to expect and Charles R. Caine's costume design left no doubt as to the respective social stations of the locals and the aristocrats. Steven Horak's wigs and makeup made significant contributions. Meganne George's simple sets were lit by Joshua Rose.

In the pit, Maestro Imre Palló took excellent command of the orchestra and brought out the glories of Donizetti's delicious score. Noby Ishida's command of the chorus was equally impressive. The female villagers in Act I, fervently praying for protection from the French, sounded wonderful and the soldier's chorus, even better. French diction coach Dr. Susan Stout deserves props for ensuring that every word of French was understood.

In sum, it was a delightful evening and Newbie went home to listen to several more versions of "Ah, mes amis" on youtube. And as for Voce di Meche, we will not have to wait another eight years to hear this opera again; we will be reviewing it at the Santa Fe Opera next month.

The performance will be repeated Sunday 2:30 at Hunter College and we encourage you to catch it before it's gone.

(c) meche kroop

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