La Fille du Régiment
ATLANTA OPERA offered a lighthearted version of Gaetano Donizetti’s Fille du Régiment as its second main-stage production of the 2017–18 season at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre (seen Feb. 24). Artistic and general director Tomer Zvulun infused this charming opéra comique with a bit of celebrity by enlisting a band of impressive artists for Atlanta Opera debuts, including Andriana Chuchman as Marie, Stephanie Blythe as the Marquise of Berkenfield and conductor Christopher Allen. Stage director E. Loren Meeker delivered a vibrant show with an endearing Gilbert and Sullivan feel, sung in French with English-language dialogue, and billed as The Daughter of theRegiment.
An acceptable production of Donizetti’s Daughter requires singers who can be adorably comical and still have sufficient vocal prowess to satisfy the opera’s bel canto requirements. Chuchman’s pitch-perfect fioratura fit the bill for the orphan-turned-soldier who seals every promise with spit and a handshake, but it was at the other pole of the bel canto style that she excelled, in particular her honeyed sostenuto line within “Il faut partir.” Her Tonio, played by Santiago Ballerini, a former Atlanta Opera studio artist, could likewise elegantly switch vocal gears in the most delicate ascending phrases, as within his plea to the Marquise, “Pour me rapprocher de Marie.” Ballerini’s slender voice tackled Tonio’s Act I showpiece, “Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!,” with utter security, the nine notorious high Cs unwavering.
Stephanie Blythe and bass Stefano De Peppo (Sulpice) supplied plenty of hilarity during the evening, especially during Marie’s Act II singing lesson. With the slightest wave of her handkerchief or inflected dialogue en anglais, Blythe proved her singular comic mastery without overshadowing the rest of the cast. Even in moments of vocal comedy, Blythe’s mezzo-soprano is sumptuous. De Peppo, zany and paternal at once, was well cast as Sulpice. Bass Tyler Simpson rounded out Donizetti’s French fairy tale as the footman Hortensius.
The storybook setting was created by James Noone and borrowed from Washington National Opera. The Alpine wonderland in Act I was reminiscent of Arthur Rackham’s illustrations for The Night Before Christmas,with the draping boughs of grand evergreens dotting the skyline behind the regiment’s modest camp. Lighting designer Rob Denton kept things warm and bright, enhancing the platoon of French soldiers (colorfully costumed by designer James Schuette) donning their bleu, blanc et rouge. Marie’s band of “fathers” managed hearty singing and some surprisingly synchronized dance steps under the tutelage of choreographer Meg Gillentine. —Stephanie Adrian