Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/4/2012 (2864 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba Opera laid aside all stereotypes about opera being stuffy and inaccessible Saturday night with its feel-good production of Donizetti's 1840 comic opera Daughter of the Regiment. In a show that had audience members shrieking with laughter and giving prolonged standing ovations, the all-Canadian cast made us proudly patriotic. Director Ann Hodges showed a singular touch for comedy in this impressive mounting.
Front and centre was rising star soprano and Winnipeg native Nikki Einfeld as Marie, the title character. Each time we hear Einfeld her instrument seems to have become more refined. On Saturday she was faultless. Trim and petite in her becoming military outfit, she was enchanting as the rough and tumble young woman raised by 23 "fathers" — soldiers of the 21st Regiment of the Grenadiers. In contrast to her tomboyish demeanour, her voice was pure feminine lightness, possessing a subtle buoyancy that while not overpowering, had underlying strength and confidence. This was ideally suited to the spunky Marie, as she arm-wrestled baritone Theodore Baerg, playing Sergeant Sulpice. Her scene in the castle, in which she struggles to figure out how to put on a fashionable hat, was a scream.
The story takes place in the early 1800s, in the Swiss Tyrolean Mountains. Set designer Beni Montressor (set and props provided by Edmonton Opera) has put together an interestingly rustic and colourful presentation that looks hand-drawn. Creative lighting by Bill Williams brought the best out of this quite simple set.
While the work is sung in French with English subtitles, the English dialogue enabled the audience to get more involved. Canadian actress Fiona Reid, best known for her role as Al Waxman's ever-patient wife on King of Kensington was a late replacement for ailing comedienne Mary Walsh. Reid, as the Duchess of Krackenthorp, had us in stitches in what amounted to a stand-up routine full of hysterical cracks about Winnipeg and Canadian politicians. From our rapid transit system to Mayor Katz to the controversial water-park project and new Ikea, Reid poked fun at our city to the crowd's delight.
The entire ensemble was strong, with tenor John Tessier a most romantic Tonio, Marie's love interest. Tessier has a lovely, limpid voice that carries extremely well. With its warm timbre, he seems to float to the highest notes, as in the famous aria A mes amis, in which he reeled off a whopping nine high Cs, completely free of strain. Best of all was the chemistry between the two lovers. Marie, desolate at having to leave the regiment to live with her new-found aunt, the Marquise of Berkenfeld, exhibited abundant control in her silkily crafted phrases, soaked in sadness. In Qui! Vous m'aimez?, Tonio expressed his love for Marie so sweetly, it was all she could do to resist. The passion was palpable.
Mezzo soprano Rebecca Hass was delightfully haughty as the Marquise, showing great comic style. Fancying herself an attractive target for the French soldiers, she preened and criticized in Pour une femme de mon nom in clear and true voice. David Playfair played her nattily dressed butler Hortensius with superb physical humour and panache.
Baerg's fatherly Sulpice was one of the strongest showings of the evening. In colourful uniform, (wardrobe by Malabar Ltd. Toronto), he cut a dashing figure with his silvery hair. And then there was his voice — a voice that warms the cockles of your heart with its richness and commitment. Baerg threw himself wholeheartedly into the role of Marie's protector.
The Manitoba Opera Chorus was kept busy: Practically every scene demanded their presence. They were wonderful — dressed to the nines, with convincing acting and full-bodied singing. As Marie's many fathers, the soldiers' doting was especially appealing.
As always, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra helped make this production special. From the opening plaintive horn call to the final triumphant note of Salut la France, conductor Tadeusz Biernacki milked every melody to its fullest. Special mention for the touching cello line in Marie's aria, C'en est donc fait that set the scene so beautifully.
Performances continue on Tuesday and Friday.
Daughter of the Regiment
Centennial Concert Hall
April 21 Attendance: 1750
(Four and a half stars out of five)