La Fille du Régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment)

La Fille du Régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment)
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Donizetti wrote La fille du régiment in Paris. It became a popular success mainly due to the famous tenor aria ‘Ah! mes amis’, requiring the tenor, Tonio, to sing EIGHT high Cs in rapid succession, with a frequently sung unwritten ninth. It depends on the tenor for its success or failure. Donizetti’s opening night was a disaster as the tenor was flat. ‘It cannot be taken seriously,’ said Hector Berlioz’s review. Berlioz was jealous because Donizetti had many operas being performed at the same time in different Paris theatres. Berlioz had none.

Tonio is a star-making role. It catapulted young Pavarotti to fame. Nobody who saw it, can forget the brilliant Laurent Pelly production with Juan-Diego Florez and Natalie Dessay.

Jean-Louis Grinda, former Opera Director of Monte Carlo, has a tough act to follow.  His new production is a joy. Using wonderful back projection during the overture, a series of black and white photos explain why Marie was brought up by the regiment. Marie’s mother, the Marquise de Berkenfield, was partial to attractive men, especially in uniform. She meets Marie’s soldier father, falls in love with him, has a secret illegitimate child (Marie). He is killed in battle. Marie and her toy rabbit, are found by the regiment. They bring her up. They teach her to read and write on a blackboard which says ‘il fait bo’  misspelling ‘beau’ (attempting to write: the weather is nice).

Colourful costumes and charming sets add to the fizz. Excellent soloists without a weak link, and Austrian Ion Martin, a conductor who is integral to the excitement, result in a fantastic show. The chorus is excellent. The show is sold out. Everyone wants to hear Mexican star tenor Javier Camarena as Tonio sing those nine top Cs. Camarena does not disappoint. Tonio suits him perfectly.  His voice is thrilling and softer than Florez’, and the softness brings charm to his interpretation. His French is excellent.  He begins looking gauche and awkward, but rather sweet and romantic in lederhosen.  Marie must marry someone in the regiment so he signs up. In uniform, he ditches the lederhosen maturing into a man of action. He nails all nine top Cs to tumultuous applause which does not stop. It has been years since Monaco allowed a ‘bis’; they do not like extending the running time. But this time, Monaco bowed to the inevitable. Camarena not only perfectly nails another nine top Cs, but they are stronger and more exciting. He holds the last one longer than usual and brings the house down. It is quite something to nail 18 perfect top Cs in one aria.

It is unfair to judge him just for the 18 top Cs. Vocally he is on another level from everyone else. His legato bel canto phrasing is exquisite. His breath control is wondrous. His firm technique allows him to extend the legato phrases endlessly in ‘depuis l’instant’. His playful side with Marie brings out his comedy skills. The intensity in ‘pour me rapprocher’ is so strong that we are reminded that, albeit a comedy, there is tragedy for him if he is separated from Marie.

Swiss soprano Regula Mühlemann in her role debut as Marie is not the tomboy of Dessay. Still attached to her toy bunny, her Marie is feminine, charming and extremely well sung. Her voice has a clear delicate timbre.  No wonder her regiment adore her.

French mezzo Marie Gautrot as the man-loving Marquise, has a rich opulent voice and excellent low notes. She is followed around by two bare-chested man-hunks in lederhosen, performing such services as massaging her shoulders whilst she plays the piano for Marie’s song lesson. Still partial to soldiers in uniform, she ends up inevitably with Sulpice.

Canadian baritone Jean-François Lapointe as Sulpice has a gorgeous warm voice. Hopefully we shall hear more of him.

The speaking role of La duchess de Crakentorp is usually given to a known personality outside the opera world. Dawn French famously eclipsed everyone in her five-minute scene at Covent Garden.  French bass-baritone Jean-François Vinciguerra, is cast instead, playing it as a pantomime dame. It does not work as well in my opinion.

This joyous frothy fun is a must-see, if you can get a return!


Salle Garnier Opera de Monte Carlo Monaco


Music by Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)

Libretto Jules Henry Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard

First performance 11th February 1840 Opéra Comique, Paris.

Conducted by Ion Marin

Directed by Jean-Louis Grinda

Video Gabriel Grinda

Photo Credit Marco Borelli

Cast includes Regina Mühlemann, Javier Camarena, Jean-François Lapointe, Marie Gautrot, Rodolphe Briand, Jean-François Vinciguerra

Running time 2 hours 30 minutes with one interval

Until: 30 March 2024