By Jacob Stockinger
For tenors, High C’s are the brass ring on the carousel of opera.
The late great Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and the very busy Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez both earned fame and fortune with their singing of the astonishing nine high C’s in Gaetano Donizetti’s bel canto opera “La Fille du Regiment.”
In fact, Florez repeated the same nine high C’s as an encore and it brought down the house.
But it seems there may be another King of the High C’s in the making.
He is a native of New Orleans (isn’t that fitting?) and he is America tenor Bryan Hymel (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta for Warner Classics), who was recently featured on the terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” for NPR (National Public Radio).
You will surely be hearing more about him. The 35-year-old Hymel has already made his debut at the famed Metropolitan Opera, where he has sung in “Les Troyens” by Hector Berlioz — a role he also sang at the Royal Opera House in London. And he will open the Met’s 2018 season in “Samson and Delilah” by Camille Saint-Saens.
Here is a link to that story by Tom Huizenga. It is complete with sound samples from Hymel’s debut album “Héroïque” — in particular the difficult aria “Asile héréditaire” from the opera “William Tell” by Giachino Rossini — and the CD features a total of 19 high C’s. That led Huizenga to proclaim: “This is why we listen to opera!”
The Amazon.com reader reviews of the new all-French album (below, with an audiovisual clip of the behind-the-scenes recording process) not only praise Hymel for his high C’s – and C-sharps and even D’s — but single out the quality of his singing.
You can hear that strong, pitch-accurate and seemingly effortless quality in one of The Ear’s favorite tenor arias: “Nessun dorma” from “Turandot” by Giacomo Puccini, which Hymel signs with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.
By Jacob Stockinger
Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Utevsky. The young violist and conductor is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies the viola with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra.
Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which will perform its fourth season next summer. He has was recently named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has an out-of-date website here (www.disso.org).
You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.
Utevsky offered The Ear a guest review of this weekend’s two performances on Friday night and Sunday afternoon of Gaetano Donizetti’s light “bel canto” opera “La Fille du Regiment” (The Daughter of the Regiment) by the Madison Opera in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. The production, a first for the Madison Opera, sounded very promising from the preview I posted earlier this week, which was an interview with tenor Javier Abreu. Here is a link:
I immediately took Mikko up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour two summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.
Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below):
By Mikko Utevsky
Gaetano Donizetti’s popular “Daughter of the Regiment” is classic “bel canto” opera — a simple, almost corny plot, improbable love, show-stopping arias and high notes, lots of high notes.
And in the hands of the Madison Opera, it is a rousing success. (Production photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.)
The romantic plot is simple enough.
Marie, an orphaned girl raised by the 21st Regiment of the French army, meets and falls in love with a civilian, Tonio, who joins the regiment to marry her.
Their romance seems thwarted by her long-lost “aunt,” the Marquise of Berkenfeld, who sweeps her away to be married to a noble Duke, but her regiment swoops in (below, played by the Madison Symphony Chorus) at the last second to intervene, and she and Tonio are reunited at last.
Everyone ends up happy in this tale.
The production marches merrily along, buoyed by brilliant singing from Appleton-native and UW-Madison-educated Caitlin Cisler (below left) in the title role as Marie. Cisler’s sparkling sound and agile coloratura make her ideal for the part, a tremendously difficult one replete with high Cs and beyond (several Ds and more than one F!).
Her girlish demeanor in the first act is both charming and entirely suited to the character. There is no profound depth to the role, but a great deal of fun, and Cisler certainly seems to enjoy it — as do we!
Singing opposite her is one of the best tenors the Madison Opera has hosted in recent years, Puerto Rican-born Javier Abreu (below).
As Tonio, he boasts a light, lyric voice capable of the necessary acrobatics for such a famously challenging role – in particular, his Act 1 aria “Ah, mes amis!” (which demands no less than NINE high Cs in the space of about a minute and a half, as demonstrated by Juan Diego Florez in a YouTube video at the bottom). Below, Tonio steals kiss from Marie.
As the commander of Marie’s regiment of adoptive fathers, Nathan Stark (below, recently heard as the Commendatore in 2013’s Don Giovanni) is excellent as well. His acting is at least as solid as his powerful bass voice, both of which are again wonderfully suited to the role.
He is compelling as the most fatherly of the soldiers, moved to support his daughter’s romantic aspirations by his own. The comic chemistry he and Cisler have enlivens the whole show, making their early scenes possibly my favorite part of the whole evening.
Also appearing is Madison contralto Alisanne Apple (below), alternately and appropriately outraged by Marie’s antics and embarrassed at her own as the Marquise (and whose true contralto guts are displayed early in the opera, to great amusement).
As her butler Hortensius, bass Douglas Swenson (below) projects a hilariously palpable air of self-importance at every moment.
Director David Lefkowich’s blocking is frequently hilarious (though the silly shuffling “quick march” of the soldiers was distracting and absurd), and helps bring the characters to life admirably.
The sets by the Virginia Opera and the costumes from the Opera Theatre of St. Louis Opera livened up the stage, particularly in the first act where the soldiers’ bright red uniforms stood out sharply against distant hills and misty mountains.
As always, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) leads musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a capable and flexible pit ensemble, with good attention to balance. The Madison Opera Chorus, solidly prepared by Chorus Master Anthony Cao, also featured two small, well-sung solo spots for Robert Goderich and Christopher Apfelbach.
The production is sung in French with projected English supertitles, with a small amount of (sensibly) English dialogue. The running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including one 20-minutes intermission.
The last performance is today, Sunday, Feb. 9 at 2:30 p.m. the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. Tickets are $25-$107. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.
And maybe you would like to see what other reviewers had to say:
Here is a link to the rave review by John W. Barker (below) rave review for Isthmus:
Here is a link to the very favorable review by Greg Hettmansberger (bel0w) for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:
By Jacob Stockinger
This coming Friday night and Sunday afternoon, the Madison Opera performs its premiere production of Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment” in the Capitol Theater at the Overture Center for the Arts.
Performances are at 8 p.m. on Friday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. The opera will be sung in the original French with English surtitles. The sets come from an acclaimed production by the Virginia Opera (below):
Tickets are $25-$107 with student and group discounts available. They are available at the Overture Center box office, 201 State St., Madison, WI; by calling (608) 258-4141; and by visiting http://www.madisonopera.org
As a Madison Opera press release says: “ “The Daughter of the Regiment” is a sweet romantic comedy, with vocal pyrotechnics and beautiful melodies interlaced with charm and humor.
“The plot is simple: Marie, an orphan who was raised by the 21st Regiment, is in love with Tonio, who joins the army so he can marry her. When Marie’s new-found aunt takes her away from her beloved regiment, she despairs. Fortunately, all ends happily ever after.
“I adore this opera,” says Kathryn Smith (below), Madison Opera’s general director. “Sometimes all we want from a night at the opera is entertainment, and ‘Daughter’ delivers. I fell in love with the show’s music years ago, and it’s a pure delight to bring this work to Madison Opera for the first time in the company’s 53-year history. It’s a perfect show for everyone, from opera novices to opera omnivores, from 8-year-olds to 88-year-olds.”
“At last we are bringing Donizetti’s comic masterpiece to our audience, with its scintillating score and adorably zany plot,” says John DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad), Madison Opera’s artistic director who will conduct the performances. “I’ve so loved my encounters with this opera in the past and so look forward to Madison’s first outing with such a marvelous cast, the Madison Opera chorus, and the Madison Symphony Orchestra. This is the way to escape from any winter doldrums.”
Appleton native Caitlin Cisler, who charmed audiences as the page Oscar in A Masked Ball and at Opera in the Park last season, returns to Madison Opera as Marie.
Tenor Javier Abreu, described by Opera News as “a natural Rossini singer,” makes his local debut as the high-C-prone Tonio. Nathan Stark, who was a chilling Commendatore in “Don Giovanni” last season, displays his comic side as Sulpice, one of Marie’s many “fathers.”
Local favorite Allisanne Apple (below) returns as The Marquise of Berkenfield. She is joined by Douglas Swenson as Hortensius. Christopher Apfelbach plays a Corporal, Katrina Brunner is The Duchess of Krakenthorp, and Robert Goderich is a Peasant.
David Lefkowich (below), who directed Handel’s “Acis and Galatea” here in 2013, directs this traditional staging, set in the Tyrol around 1820.
To find out more about such athletic singing, The Ear used an email interview to talk about it with tenor Javier Abreu (below):
Can you briefly introduce yourself and your career? When did you start music lessons and how did you get into opera?
I started singing when I was a child in Catholic school. My parents were involved in church choir, and I started picking it up then. As I started getting into my teen years, and my voice started changing, my mom decided to let me take some voice lessons, to make the transition a little easier. I was interested in singing pop at that point, but my voice teacher made sure I know how to breathe, and not to push my voice to its limits.
I didn’t get into opera until I was a sophomore in college. I was in the university choir, and a lot of my friends were doing it. I wanted to see what it was all about. I had a fantastic voice teacher during my undergrad years, and some really talented coaches. I feel very fortunate to have had the formative years that I had.
“La Fille du Regiment” is famous as a career-building opera for tenors, thanks to the 9 high C’s in “Ah, mes amis.” Luciano Pavarotti (below top) and Juan Diego Florez (below bottom) whose exciting show-stopping performance can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom) come immediately to mind. How hard is do you find to sing those high notes and how successful have you been with the aria?
I started working on the aria at the age of 22. I knew it was something I wanted to sing at some point, but I decided to not take it lightly. The great thing about this role is that can be sung by many types of tenor. Everyone has their own strength to showcase.
That said, having the C’s in the aria is always essential. I find that I need to treat this aria like any other piece. It’s just one more aria with a few high notes. Giving too much importance to the fact that it’s high puts too much pressure on the moment. It is, after all, only 60 seconds of a 2-1/2 hour show. There’s plenty of show left after that.
What makes singing the high C’s so hard – the pitch, the length of the notes and breathing, whatever?
Tessitura certainly plays a big role in making this aria one of the most challenging in the repertoire. There is a certain finesse that bel canto requires, which takes plenty of effort. Add to that the fact that most roles don’t demand such fireworks from the tenor in such a short period of time.
The tenor in a Rossini opera will be required to sing plenty of C’s, but they are spread out through the show. The mere fact that it happens in such a short period of time requires from the tenor a certain stamina and control, making this sort of a specialized role.
What are the challenges of Donizetti’s “bel canto” style, versus say Baroque or Verismo opera, for you as a tenor and for the whole cast?
It is hard to compare all of these styles, because they are so different, though one is informed by the other. If we go chronologically, baroque certainly informed the bel canto style. The beauty of lines, and the exposed vocal fireworks transitioned from the baroque into the bel canto style very smoothly. Verismo came later, as an answer to what had come before.
The focus in bel canto – of “beautiful singing” — is the beauty of line, and the finesse from passage to passage. It’s the great combination of vocal prowess, and story telling. As a singer, I get to showcase what I do best, and cadenzas tend to be tailored to the specific abilities of the singer.
That is one of my favorite things about bel canto. It’s a great collaboration between, singer, stage director, maestro, and orchestra. It can be some of the most thrilling theater-music combination there is.
What makes this opera popular with audiences in general? The happy endings? The characters? The plot? The impressive and accessible lightness of the bel canto style? Some other element?
People like light stories. Add to that the fact that Donizetti was a masterful composer, and chose librettos that appealed to the masses. Who does not want to see the “good ol’ boy” get the girl?
There is a complexity to the show that is present in the great masterpieces by Donizetti (below). There are very light moments, in which you feel like you are in an operetta, in juxtaposition with moments of great sadness that are reminiscent of his great serious works. This show brings a lot of the elements that made Donizetti a master of his time.
How would you compare your role and this particular interpretation of it to other roles and to what other tenors have done with yours?
What I love about live theater and opera is the fact that every person interpreting a role is going to bring something different to it. To me, comparing two tenors singing the same role is like comparing two different beers. While they have many of the same kind of qualities, they will never be the same.
That’s what makes it interesting to me. Every interpretation is informed by the single individual who gets to perform it at any given time.
What us your sense of the ensemble spirit in the cast and production so far? Is there anything you s want to say about the Madison Opera and this production? (Below is a set from the Virginia Opera’s production that will be used.)
One of the best things about this show is the fact that it has a small cast. That allows us to really get to work with each other in a more intimate way, and form bonds that make the show more interesting.
This production is a lot of fun, and each of the cast members has their own quirky take on their role. That has made it more exciting, and hopefully it will translate as more fun for the audience.
As an audience member, I always enjoy a show in which the filial love of the cast is palpable. It makes a comedy really shine. Our director and conductor have done a great job at trying to use our individual strengths, and showcase them through out the show. It is full of tender moments, and I’m so excited to be a part of it. I think Madison will really like this beloved classic of the opera repertoire.