By James Bash
Sarah Coburn and Lawrence Brownlee showered McCaw Hall with vocal brilliance in a splendid performance of La fille du régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment) at the Seattle Opera on Oct. 19. The production of Donizetti’s comedy, which runs through Nov. 2, opened the company’s 50th season, and the evening marked the second return of Coburn and Brownlee, two of the most famous graduates of Seattle’s Young Artists Program. They last starred here in The Barber of Seville in 2011.
Set somewhere in France during World War II, Seattle’s La fille features an American military troop that has raised the orphaned Marie (Coburn) as its daughter. She falls in love with Tonio (Brownlee), a young Frenchman, and he enlists with the regiment in order to win her hand. Since the original story was fairly preposterous (with a Napoleonic French regiment and a Tyrolese enlistee), this reinvention, conceived by acclaimed director Emilio Sagi, works just as well. The scenery and costumes, all circa the 1940s, were created by Julio Galán for the Teatro Communale di Bologna.
Whether standing atop a bar counter or on a table, Coburn was rock solid as the tomboy Marie, tossing off cascades of notes with ease. She reveled in the spunky, can-do nature of her character and thrillingly upped the volume for the ensemble pieces. Brownlee created a determined and lovable Tonio. He hit all of the high notes with room for cream, including the nine high Cs in “Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!” with vigor, and he made sure that the last one rang out in the hall for a long time. In the second half, he topped that with a high C-sharp in the aria “Pour me rapprocher de Marie.”
Alexander Hajek created an energetic Sulpice, the sergeant who could be rough-hewn and tough but understanding as well. Joyce Castle, as the strong-willed Marquise of Berkenfield, started out well but struggled vocally a bit during the second half. When she came out for her curtain call, she looked almost faint.
Dressed in a gaudy gown and topped with a headdress that would scare a herd of cattle, Peter Kazaras towered above the cast in a drag version of the haughty Duchess of Krackenthorp and sang “Ah! quel dîner” (aka the “Tipsy Song”) from Offenbach’s La Périchole. The chorus, prepared expertly by John Keene, sang with gusto. Conductor Yves Abel deftly paced the orchestra and balanced its sound with the singers.
Laughter erupted from all corners of the hall when couples were announced at the Marquise’s chateau for the wedding ceremony. That’s when barons and baronesses of nearby Washington metropolises such as Puyallup, Hoquiam, Sequim, and Humptulips made their entries. Other humorous contributions came from actor Robert Mead’s scene-stealing gyrations in a non-speaking role as the head butler. He helped inspire a household staff of supernumeraries into action, and they put the finishing touches on this delightful production.
For tickets to additional performances of La fille du régiment” at the Seattle Opera (Oct. 26, 30, Nov. 1, 2), click here.