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Subject: Daughter of the Regiment in Sydney
From: Sandra Bowdler <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Sandra Bowdler <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 1 Mar 1997 17:00:00 +0800
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La fille du re'giment    by   Gaetano Donizetti

Opera Australia, Sydney Opera House, 22 February 1997

Conductor: Tom Woods

Hortensius:   Christopher Daws
Marquise de Berkenfeld:  Heather Begg
A Peasant:  Geoffrey Locke  [on the night, replacing Christopher Bath]
Sulpice:  Donald Shanks
Marie:  Emma Lysons
Tonio:  Bradley Williams
Corporal:  John Cummins
Duchesse de Krakentorp:  Marie-Claire

I concluded my recent wanderings in wild (eastern) Australia by attending
a performance of  Donizetti's Daughter of the Regiment at the Sydney Opera
House.  This is described as a "restudied" production, ie it is a recycled
version of the production originally rolled out as a vehicle for Joan
Sutherland.  At that time, there were mutterings as to whether such a
lightweight vehicle were indeed appropriate for her talents, but many
people evidently relished the good Dame's rather pantomime style (but of
course ravishingly sung) performance.  The main difference in the newly
studied version would appear to be the inclusion of young principals and a
more youthful aerobic style of performance on their part.

Opera Australia described the show thus:  "Adopted by soldiers, a feisty
French girl revels in fighting the mad and mischievous battle of love.  A
show-stopping tour-de-force from Donizetti. The rising stars of Emma
Lysons and Kenn Chester shine brightly in this delightful opera."  This
was accompanied by an image of pre-pubescent (to my eyes) girlish legs in
high-topped sneakers with pink satin ribbons and lace-topped socks. (You
can see this for yourself at
http://www.ausopera.org.au./sydney/2.01.05/daught_index.html).  Rising
star (presumably Australian) Kenn Chester didn't appear on the night I
went;   rather, we had Texan Bradley Williams.  (Correct me if I'm wrong,
but overseas performers in Australia are always established artistes
rather than rising stars).

The glossy program on sale at the performance resiled from this frivolous
description, and provided the punters with  lengthy discourses on
Patriotism ...and Nationalism, The Military Hero in the Romantic
Imagination, and the history of the work itself.  I imagine this must have
left the many tourists who attend Sydney performances with the barest
knowledge of opera somewhat confused as to what they were in fact in for.
IMHO, the work is a fairly lightweight affair, but one which does make
demands of the singers;  what is needed is a light touch and good voices.
In the event, the touch was  somewhat heavier handed than was needed, and
the voices not really sufficiently outstanding to counterbalance this.

The sets and costumes (except Marie's) are much as in the original
production, and may be seen in the ABC video recorded in 1986.  Mike
Richter has described them as "bright and traditional".  The emphasis in
the staging is still pretty much on the plodding side, with somewhat
belaboured humour.  Hortensius, for some reason, has now been camped up a
treat.  Emma Lysons, whom one is inclined to view benignly as a Perth
product, is required to dress as a trooper in Act I, removing her helmet
so we may admire her long and indubitably feminine hair, and to leap about
like Paula Abdul in her prime.  At one point, she hops onto a soldier's
shoulders, possibly to emphasise her physical difference from her
illustrious predecessor (an astute observation from my NOLP).

The singing was generally competent, but did not rise to any great
heights.  Lysons, who was a charming Morgana in last year's Alcina,  is
perhaps being pushed into roles still somewhat beyond her grasp (a
phenomenon much discussed here).  She settled as the night went on;  while
the part calls for some deliberate geschreien, there were a couple that
were not required.  Bradley Williams made the notorious C's with relative
ease, but his voice overall was rather lacklustre;  not much squillo here.
A pre-curtain announcement indicated that Heather Begg was suffering from
a throat ailment, and this was unfortunately evident.  With respect to the
non-voice aspects of the role, she's been doing it for so long now she
could manage it in a coma.  The same might be said for Marie-Claire, who
could barely manage it up the steps at the end.  (These last two can also
be seen in the video, dressed in the same clothes.  I suppose not
everyone, like Callas, can get away with "I don't do routine").  Donald
Shanks is one of the dependable mainstays of  Opera Australia (whatever it
might be calling itself in any given week), and managed a respectable
rendition of the Sulpice role.  Musically, the orchestra bounced along
happily, under the remarkably young-looking Tom Woods,  whom I have not
heard before.  I note from the program that he appears to be another Perth
product.

All in all, this could be characterised as a pleasant but not particularly
exciting night at the opera.

Sandra Bowdler

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