La Fille du Régiment by Donizetti

O Estado de São Paulo. São Paulo, Brazil
Teatro Municipal de São Paulo – 21st April 2007
Reviewed by Lauro Machado Coelho

A brilliant conception, an intelligent staging and a perfect sense of humour for each situation, provoking the most spontaneous flows of laughter from the audience -- those are the most impressive qualities of Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment which opened on the 21st of April at the Teatro Municipal de São Paulo.

         Without moving the opera from its historical context – it all still takes place in the Tyrol, sometime during the first half of the 19th century, not to worry – stage director André Heller-Lopes allowed himself a healthy amount of imagination and liberty, spicing the show, here and there, with well placed jokes and references to operatic conventions. These made the evening all the more enjoyable to the audience. Helped by beautiful sets by Renato Theobaldo, clever light design by Fábio Retti and very appropriate costumes by Marcelo Marques, Heller-Lopes came up with a colourful, funny, show which flirted deliberately with the ‘kitsch’ but never allowed itself any touch of bad taste. Inspired by that, the cast acted with grace and wit.   

         Furthermore, the decision to have the spoken dialogues performed in Portuguese worked very well. It also permitted the only French person in the cast -- actress Jacqueline Laurence in the spoken role of the Duchesse de Krakentorp -- to highlight her character’s aristocratic arrogance and distance by speaking only French, as a contrast.

         Despite the size of her role, the Marquise de Berkenfeld, mezzo soprano Denise de Freitas was vocally and dramatically the strongest performance on stage. She sung with a spotless technique and revealed herself an excellent actress. It made an especially comic effect whenever, along the dialogues adapted by Heller, she would call the conductor’s attention to the tempi -- as many a singer would like to be able to do. Her male counterpart, baritone Douglas Hahn, was in excellent form, offering a very amusing reading of Sulpice, one of Marie’s many ‘fathers’.

         In the title role, Rosana Lamosa showed an equal amount of qualities and problems. She is a good actress, managing to build her character in the way that Heller has imagined it. Gifted with a beautiful voice, she had no difficulties in surmounting any of the role’s ornamentations; however, the voice is sometimes small in the lower register and tends to find itself often covered by the orchestra. But Lamosa is a knowledgeable singer and produces a very beautiful effect, whenever the score is perfectly suited to her instrument. That was the case of “Il faut partir”, where Donizetti echoes Grétry and Auber; in passages as such her lyric soprano voice has one of the best moments in the evening.

         Reuniting the talents of Denise, Douglas and Rosana, the Act 2 trio – the singing lesson – made for the most exhilarating scene in the opera, confronting the tedious harmonies of the Romance de salon to the joyful Rataplan.

         The most difficult performance to judge is that of tenor Flávio Leite as Tonio. He is not a bad actor, also bringing to life the director’s ideas. He can sustain the role’s tessitura and negotiates its high notes with ease – but does so in a voice of a poor, nasal, quality. While one could easily imagine the tenor in a role such as Basílio in Le Nozze di Figaro, it is hard to predict the future of a light tenor who lacks some of the essential requirements of the Bel Canto repertoire. Despite his courage in confronting a role such as Tonio, to which he lent a good deal of energy, the singer sounds out of place as a serious romantic lead. Clever enough André Heller-Lopes has perceived this singer’s limitations and gave to his character a more comic reading. This allowed a good response from the audience, especially during the fearful “Ô mes amis, quel jour de fête -- the 9 high Cs sequence – which sounded light and funny.

         La Fille du Régiment, a work that hasn’t been performed in São Paulo since 1894, succeeds for a series of reasons; its ensemble work, a good performance from the “Coral Lírico”, actors and by a correct musical direction from Maestro José Maria Florêncio, to whose conducting the “Sinfônica Municipal” responds well. But above all it was its vivid production and brilliant staging the main reason for anyone not to miss this comedy by Donizetti, the present production being the Brazilian premiere of the original French version.