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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
La Fille du Régiment

Opera in two acts.
Libretto by J.H. Vernoy de Saintes-Georges and Jean F.A. Bayard
Marie - Mariella Devia
Tonio - Paul Austin Kelly
Sulpice - Bruno Praticő

La Marquise de Berckenfield - Ewa Podles
La Duchesse de Crakentorp - Edoardo Borioli
Hortensius - Nicolas Rivenq
Un Caporal - Aldo Bramante
Un Paysan - Ernesto Gavazzi
Le Maître de Danse - Umberto Bergna
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Alla Scala/Donato Renzetti
Recorded at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, June 1966
TDK DVD DV- OPLFDR [135 mins]

La Fille du Regiment is set in the Tyrol in the Napoleonic era and tells the story of Marie, the pretty vivandiere of the 21st Regiment of the Grenadiers. She had been found on the battlefield when she was a young child and adopted and brought up by the soldiers as "the daughter of the regiment". When Tonio, a young mountain lad, is caught lurking around the camp, the Grenadiers seize him as a spy. Marie however declares she loves him and explains that he had saved her from falling off a precipice. But the soldiers have vowed that Marie can only marry a member of the regiment. Tonio enlists in the Regiment only to find that the Marquise de Berckenfield claims Marie as her long lost niece and carries her off to groom her for a glittering marriage into the aristocracy. In the castle of the Marquise Marie rebels against being made a lady and the regiment, with Tonio, now promoted to Captain, come to claim and rescue her from an unwanted wedding.

The design of this La Scala production is by film and opera director Franco Zeffirelli. The costumes and sets are colourful and, mercifully, traditional. The soldiers’ uniforms are authentic-looking and the gowns worn by Marie, the Marquise and her aristocrat friends in Act II are sumptuous. Act I scenery follows the contemporary cartoon style of Napoloeon’s middle-European campaigns, while the Marquise’s brightly-lit palace music room is elegant and spacious with huge picture windows looking out onto an ornamental garden.

The Italian soprano, Mariella Devia might appear, under close TV camera scrutiny, to be rather mature for the role of Marie … but then so did Joan Sutherland in the 1960s in the role. However she more than makes up for it in her delicious tomboy sense of comedy and in managing Donizetti’s spectacular coloratura passages with aplomb. Paul Austin Kelly matches her in a comic performance in the role of Tonio, nicely treading the line between the heroic and the absurd. He brilliantly masters the notorious eight high Cs of his cavatina, ‘Pour son amen’. Bruno Praticő is an engaging, swaggering Sergeant Sulpice. Ewa Podles is gravely haughty in her Act I aria when, jealous of her honour, she rues the advance of Napoleon’s troops. The tuneful soldiers’ choruses are suitably stirring.

Of course one of the delights and highlights of this opera is the hilarious Act II Music Lesson. The Trio of Marie, Marquise and Sulpice are comical enough but they cannot dispel for me, memories of the funnier, far sharper performance of this scene with Joan Sutherland as Marie, Monica Sinclair as the Marquise de Berckenfield and Spiro Malas as Sulpice in the celebrated 1968 Richard Bonynge Decca recording.

This is a bright and breezy production of Donizetti’s comic opera that will surely delight fans of bel canto.

Ian Lace

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