La Fille Hits The Nigh Notes At The Met – Part I

Dear Readers:

This is my review of the Metropolitan Live in HD production of the opera La fille du regiment (“Daughter of the Regiment”), that great comic opera by Gaetano Donizetti.  I saw this production yesterday in an American movie theater.  It was really good and lived up to expectations, although I do have some quibbles about the set design and the production itself, which I’ll get to later.  Maestro Enrique Mazzola conducted the Met orchestra brilliantly, and with much verve.

Javier and His High C’s

The high point, of course (pun intended) of the show, was Bel Canto tenor Javier Camarena’s rendition of the famous Act I cavatina “Mes amis” with its infamous nine High-C notes!  Enough to shred the vocal chords of any ordinary man.  Met publicists had been teasing the audience for weeks, whether Camarena might be induced to sing an encore of this aria.  It has become traditional for audiences to demand this of him, but an encore of a particular piece had never been attempted before in the Live in HD production.  So this would be a First.  Well, of course we all knew that it would happen!  And indeed, Camarena performed this song seamlessly, the audience went wild with stomping and cries of “bis”, upon which he did it again, also seamlessly!  During the intermission, the Live in HD host, Nadine Sierra, asked Javier if it was difficult to nail, not 9, but 18 High C’s!  Javier replied that, when he practices this piece, it is not uncommon for him to sing 40 or even 50 High C’s.  The more practice, the better he gets at it!

The baby-faced Javier is, of course, always adorable, and idolized by opera fans throughout the world.  The magazine “OperaWire” called him “indisputably one of the best artists on the planet”, and explained the origins of this new “Ah Mes Amis” tradition:  “Earlier this month, his rendition of this opera’s famous aria “Ah, mes amis!” with its nine high Cs caused the audience to erupt with enthusiastic applause. Camarena and conductor Enrique Mazzola looked at each other and they DID IT AGAIN—an encore with another nine high Cs! The audience went nuts.”  As happened yesterday as well!  For the record, here is the libretto to Donizetti’s famous opera, and here are the lyrics to that particular cavatina, along with the male chorus:

TONIO
Ah ! mes amis, quel jour de fête !
Je vais marcher sous vos drapeaux.
L’amour qui m’a tourné la tête,
Désormais me rend un héros.
Oui, celle pour qui je soupire,
A mes vœux a daigné sourire
Et ce doux espoir de bonheur
Trouble ma raison et mon cœur !

CHŒUR
montrant Tonio
Le camarade est amoureux !

TONIO
Et c’est en vous seuls que j’espère.

CHŒUR
Quoi ! c’est notre enfant que tu veux !

TONIO
Donnez-la-moi, Messieurs son père.

CHŒUR
Non pas… elle est promise à notre régiment !

TONIO
Mais j’en suis, puisqu’en cet instant
Je viens de m’engager, pour cela seulement !

CHŒUR
Tant pis pour toi !

TONIO
Mais votre fille m’aime !

CHŒUR
Se pourrait-il !… quoi ! notre enfant !

TONIO
avec passion
Elle m’aime, vous dis-je… ici, j’en fais serment !

Les soldats se consultent entre eux.

CHŒUR
Que dire et que faire ?
Puisqu’il a su plaire,
Faut-il en bon père
Ici consentir ?
Mais pourtant j’enrage,
Car c’est grand dommage
De l’unir avec
Un pareil blanc-bec !

TONIO
Eh bien ?

CHŒUR
Eh bien ? Si tu dis vrai, son père, en ce moment,
Avec solennité
Te promet son consentement…

[Upon which, Tonio enters into a state of ecstasy and belts out the 9 High C’s]:

Pour mon âme
Quel destin !
J’ai sa flamme,
J’ai sa main !
Jour prospère !
Me voici
Militaire
Et mari !

Pour mon âme
Quel destin !
J’ai sa flamme,
J’ai sa main !
Jour prospère !
Me voici
Militaire
Et mari !

[For the quibblers:  Donizetti did not write that final High-C (on “the second rendition of the word “Militaire”), he only wrote 8 High-C’s.  But the ninth one has become a tradition now.]

And the virtuosity is even greater than people think, as the High-C’s on the words mon âme and sa flame are reached, not from a crescendo, but just go directly one octave up, from a Middle C.  There are not many tenors in the world who can do this with such perfect pitch.  Javier, with his sweet strong voice is the pride of his Mexican homeland.

Pretty And Her Lovely Trills

Not to be outdone, though, we have an equally strong female Bel Canto lead in South African soprano Pretty Yende.  Recently Yende has been specializing in Donizetti roles; I saw her earlier this season as the lead in a production of L’elisir d’amore.  Yende is such a professional, that she can even sing Lucia di Lammermoor, that crazy lady with the insane ornamental trills.  In other words, Yende has the perfect Bel Canto voice and can do any mad scene or pyrotechnic demanded of her.  As Marie, the Daughter of the Regiment, she was even asked to belt out her ornaments while ironing a full load of laundry, a feat of virtuosity rarely demanded of any performer.

In a backstage interview, Yende revealed that she is a member of the Zulu nation (South Africa), and even added some Zulu clicks to her improvised spoken dialogue, getting into the character of the orphan girl Marie.  The audience didn’t mind and even found it adorable.  Some purists may object, Well, what’s a young Zulu woman doing in the Tyrolean mountains of Austria, anyhow?  Dudes, opera is all about suspending disbelief.  If you can watch a 50-year-old chubby guy in a bearskin pretending to be an athletic 16-year-old Siegfried, then you can also close your eyes and pretend that a Zulu girl is a German orphan.  The key point here is that Pretty Yende has the pipes to sing this role.  Her arias brought down the house, as much as Javier’s, but no Encore for her … yet!

Pretty’s rambunctious and tomboyish portrayal of Marie was sometimes over the top, for my taste, I would have preferred a sweeter and more demure girl; but then one also has to remember that she is performing on the stage and projecting to an audience of 5,000 people.  The fact that we get a different view of her, in close-ups, is a function of the Live in HD technology!  In fact, this technology turned the “comic opera” into slapstick and even vaudeville at times.  Lots of hamming up, in other words, and done by all parties concerned!

Next:  My quibbles about the staging and production.  Why, oh why, mes amis, did you set this comic classic in World War I, instead of Napoleonic times?  There is actually nothing funny about WWI, sigh…

[to be continued]

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