By Kendall Sommers, III Form
La Fille du Régiment and Experiencing an Opera
Gaetano Donizett wrote La Fille du Régiment, and it premiered at “Opera Comique” opera house in Paris in 1840. The two-act show first premiered at the Metropolitan Opera house in New York in 1902. It was the composer’s first show in French and became a huge success following its release. On February 11th, 2019, St. Markers attended La Fille du Régiment for the annual opera trip. The show follows a young woman, Marie, who grew up in the French army after being taken in by Sargent Sulpice. Leading with a background of her adoption and the climate in which she grew up in, one surrounded by men, viewers can understand her mannerisms and apparent personality. Opera-goers are introduced quickly to Marie’s love interest, Tonio, who is an Austrian that meets Marie by saving her life. The regiment is opposed to their courtship because he is an Austrian and an enemy to them, but Marie resists this fact. Traveling through the regiment’s campsite, a wealthy woman, the Marquise of Berkenfield, reveals that she is Marie’s aunt. She whisks Marie off to her Chateau to force manners onto her and guide her into an arranged marriage in order to salvage her family’s generational wealth. She demands that Marie leaves her lover and family, the regiment, behind.
In the second act, Tonio is heartbroken, and Marie ponders the meaningless of possessions and money to her through a horrendous singing lesson with her aunt. Tonio asks Sulpice, her adoptive father, for her hand in marriage but is informed of the arranged marriage. Sometime later, the Marquise of Berkenfield confesses to the fact that she is Marie’s mother. As a result of this and the arrival of Marie’s regiment at the wedding, Marie’s mother allows her to marry Tonio. The whole company rejoices and sends Marie and Tonio on their way. The traditional themes may be the only aspect that may not appeal to certain audiences, but the acoustics and emotional intimacy between the audience and the company are timeless.
The experience of an opera is meant to be elegantly executed and classy evening overall. This is exactly what “La Fille du Régiment” gave audience members. The shows begin with a lighthearted solo song performed by Marie and introduce the ambiance the show will have throughout. The experience has a traditional tone that makes the plot seem dated but also fits into the expectations of an opera, regarding the traditional experience: the French linguistics, a love story, and strong voices. The range of voices is what makes the show most interesting. In the most recent performance, the lead tenor sung 18 high C’s. Harmony and a spectrum of voice types allow for the songs sung to be varying in an acoustical sense. Also, the emotion conveyed through the composed songs matches perfectly with the plotline with the show’s skilled cast. The two-act performance gave audience members the flexibility to refresh a bit before reconvening in their seats. An intermission is a common part of an opera, but this one stood out because of its relation to the plot of the show. Marie has just been taken to her “aunt’s” chateau and as she was sent off, the curtain closed. This intermission gave opera-goers the opportunity to reflect on the plot because the main focus when sitting in the theater is the voices. When the show resumed, the passing of time represented in the show was also intensified by the involvement of a short intermission.
The thing that struck me most was the connection the performers made with the audience. The lack of microphones allowed for this intimacy, but also the perfection in contrast preparation. The performers looked into the house and, while staying in character, made an effort to recognize the audience members’ presence and the fact they came to see them perform. The opera house was filled on a Monday evening and there was an encore midway through the first act. I had never experienced anything like it before, any opera ever. While I had no knowledge into the realm of opera performances, I did not have anything to compare to the show, but I do know the storyline of the show was complemented perfectly by an orchestra; the leads had magnificent voices that carried perfected through the house. My seat in the audience with fellow peers left me surrounded by young people and first-time opera-goers. Exiting the house, both during the intermission and after the performance ended, mixed reviews were shared. I felt that the show was close to perfection. The only thing I did not enjoy was the predictability of the show, a traditional forbidden love story between a man and a woman. The simplicity of it could be seen as endearing and a way to focus on the acoustics, but I did see it as dated and disappointing, although it is recognizable the show was written two centuries ago. I commend that it is still performed today, and the conservation of this art form is important to carry forward.
Kendall Sommers is a III Former from Southborough, MA. She loves running, writing, painting and playing with her dogs.