The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Opera’s premiere production of Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment” (The Daughter of the Regiment) hits all the high notes, figuratively and literally. And other local critics also give it raves.

February 9, 2014
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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 The ensemble has an out-of-date website here (www.disso.org).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:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/classical-music-how-hard-is-it-to-sing-nine-high-cs-tenor-javier-abreu-talks-about-the-feat-he-will-perform-in-the-madison-operas-premiere-production-of-donizettis/

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):

Mikko Utevsky with baton

By Mikko Utevsky

Drumroll, please!

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.)

madison opera 5 witness party set Virginia Opera CR James GIll

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.

madison opera daughter 6 chorus, abreu, cislin, apple, Douglss Swenson as Hortensius James Gill

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!).

Caitlin Cisler 2

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).

Javier Abreu color mug 1

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.

madison opera Daughter 1 Javier Abreu (Tonio) and Caitlin Cislin (Marie) CR James Gill

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.

madison opera daughter 2 Nathan Stark (Sulpice) CR James Gill

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).

Alisanne Apple BW mug

madison opera daughter 4 allisanne apple marquise CR James Gill

As her butler Hortensius, bass Douglas Swenson (below) projects a hilariously palpable air of self-importance at every moment.

Douglas Swenson

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.

David Lefkowich 2013

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.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

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:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42027&sid=ee9c4f61ce09fdf1d9cc5e1c40f29f2c

John-Barker

Here is a link to the very favorable review by Greg Hettmansberger (bel0w) for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/February-2014/A-Daughter-We-Can-All-Adopt/

greg hettmansberger mug

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