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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 25 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 43
Humor in uniform - Seattle Opera's latest offering is a fun night of great singing
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Humor in uniform - Seattle Opera's latest offering is a fun night of great singing

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

DONIZETTI: LA FILLE DU RÉGIMENT
SEATTLE OPERA
Through November 2


Seattle Opera's new show, Gaetano Donizetti's La fille du régiment, is a complete success. This production (with scenery and costumes by Teatro Comunale di Bologna) works on every level. The silly plot, of course, is not the point, but it provides a pleasant skeleton upon which to drape hilarious comedy, lovely tunes, and, above all, great singing.

Among the uniformly excellent players, there were two surprises. The first was tenor Andrew Stenson in the matinee cast. I missed his previous major role at Seattle Opera (Orphée, in 2012), so the excellence of his Tonio last Sunday afternoon caught me completely unprepared. His singing was at least the equal of Lawrence Brownlee's opening night performance, and his comedic talent far surpassed Brownlee's. His adorable, round face was so expressive and full of fun that I couldn't put down my binoculars. Even his responses while others sang were a delight. Vocally, his tone was lovely and securely produced from top to bottom. The nine high C's of his first aria appeared easy, with the final C held long and loud while he made a slow 360-degree rotation before releasing it face-on to the audience.

The second surprise was the non-singing, irrepressible servant who camped in perfect time to the music in Act Two and won the biggest laughs of the show. He is an actor by the name of Robert Mead, who is not even mentioned in the program notes. To say he was a distraction from whomever was singing at the time would be an understatement. But his antics were so much fun that I doubt anyone cared. This comic silent role was a contribution of Stage Director Emilio Sagi, who made his Seattle Opera debut with this show.

YOUNG ARTISTS SHINE
Most of the great singing came from products of Seattle Opera's Young Artist Program (currently the victim of budget cuts). Sarah Coburn displayed a large voice for one who sings coloratura so perfectly, with strong notes above high C that cut through even the full orchestra and chorus. She is slim, very pretty, acts very well, and sings like few others can. I can't think of any soprano who could do better. Another YAP graduate is, of course, tenor Lawrence Brownlee. He seems to have found all those pounds he lost a couple years ago, and he had trouble keeping his Army uniform tucked in. But his singing is as glorious as ever, easily rivaling the best tenors of his type. The third YAP product was Andrew Stenson, described above.

Also first-rate was baritone Alexander Hajek, from Toronto, Canada. He impressed in his Seattle debut with both his singing and comedic acting. His voice is ample and attractive; it seems to do whatever he wants it to. The role of Sulpice is actually fairly large, and Hajek delivered it with ease and delight.

Familiar to Seattle audiences, Franco-Canadian Yves Abel has a particular affinity with the French repertoire and has won significant critical acclaim for his achievements as founder and music director of L'Opéra Français de New York. He led this cast with finesse and great energy, keeping the pacing brisk without ever seeming to limit the singers from making the most of their talents. Balances were perfect at all times.

In comic opera of the bel canto school, it would be hard to imagine a more enjoyable night at the opera than this. (For an unforgettable performance on DVD, I strongly recommend one from Covent Garden with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez.)

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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