Seattle Opera's production of Donizetti's bel canto favorite La fille du regiment spares nothing in the way of sets, acting, nor the incredible voice talents required to pull this incredibly difficult work off in capital style.
The initial setting, in a bombed-out Paris cafe circa 1944 rendered in scrupulous detail, belies the overall humor of this work, though it is fitting as the chorus fills the role of dignified yet terrified townsfolk praying for deliverance from the enemy as shells explode nearby. The costuming and set designs were fun and evocative of the era; as the American regiment arrives with their treasured Marie (Sarah Coburn) in tow, it is quite easy to imagine oneself viewing a scene from a terribly stylish, recently bygone era
Coburn's performance as Marie was nothing short of stunning. This is a coloratura whose mastery of the intricacies of bel canto technique is absolute: timbre, agility and technical precision form the engine that allows her imaginative interpretation to shine through. Her cadenza in the opening act was redolent with delightful, bird-like warbling and ornamentation, and yet through it all she acts like the carefree young woman she portrays. An incredible feat to say the least.
The other grand role in this work, Tonio as sung by Lawrence Brownlee, matched Coburn's outing. During their duets it sounded as if their voices were simply made to go together. (They are both alumni of the SO's Young Artists program from 2001/2002.) His ability to match her in terms of agility and style led to sparkling collaboration. When he got to the famous Ah, mes amis!, the so-called Mt. Everest for tenors with its nine high Cs, it was thrilling to hear such a stunningly difficult feat performed so well and with such ability; not only were the notes themselves no problem, Brownlee came perilously close to overshooting the mark on the sharp side, such is the capability of his instrument.
There was also as much fun for the chorus in this work as one is likely to find anywhere, and they sang with true pathos and sensitivity as well. Alexander Hajek's SO debut as Sulpice was a fine performance as well, and all the comedy one could hope for came from Joyce Castle as the Marquise of Berkenfield and Peter Kazaras in drag as the Duchess of Krackenthorp. The Seattle Opera knocked this one out of the park, as is their wont.
Photo: Sarah Coburn as Marie and Lawrence Brownlee as Tonio. © Elise Bakketun photo