Opera Daily 🎶 — La Fille du Régiment
This week's Opera Daily is a throwback featuring a tenor aria from the French opera La Fille du Régiment by Gaetano Donizetti
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“Ah! mes mis, quel jour de fête!”, La Fille du Régiment
🎧 Listen here (4 minute listen): Tenor Lawrence Brownlee singing live “Ah! mes mis, quel jour de fête!” a tenor aria from Act I of the French opera La Fille du Régiment by Gaetano Donizetti.
This aria requires the tenor (the highest naturally occurring voice type in adult males) to sing nine high C’s in only two minutes!
I am confident in saying that there are only a handful of tenors who can sing them perfectly. And Larry Brownlee is one of those tenors.
He is singing the role of Tonio (toe-NYOH) here, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, opera is a sport, and Brownlee is a world-class athlete. Larry’s voice is undeniably beautiful, and he’s hands down one of the best bel canto tenors alive. Bel canto (which means “beautiful singing” in Italian) is a style that has two main features: 1) very fast melodies that highlight the agility and flexibility of the singer’s voice, 2) slower, more sustained passages that highlight the singer’s stamina and control. You will hear both of these in this aria.
The Daughter of the Regiment (La Fille du Régiment in French) takes place in Tyrol, a region in the Alps, in the early nineteenth century. The story is about Marie, who has fallen in love with Tonio from a rival nation. Tonio joins the regiment to marry Marie, and at the beginning of this aria, he approaches some of the members and explains that he has joined because he loves the regiment’s “daughter”.
In the cabaletta “Pour mon âme”, after asking the members of the regiment to allow him to marry Marie and receiving a resounding “yes!”, Tonio sings about his happiness of finally being united with his love. He promises to take care of her and protect her forever.
What a prospect lies before me!
Her heart is mine and so is her hand!
On happy day!
Here I am, enlisted and engaged!
I am a soldier, I am a soldier,
I can claim her now!
The Duchess of Krakenthorp is a speaking role in opera. Several non-singing celebrities have played the part, including Kathleen Turner at The Metropolitan Opera in 2018 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Washington National Opera in 2016.
La Fille du Régiment is an example of “opéra comique,” a genre that features spoken text between individual songs. Unlike recitative (the spoken-like singing used for dialogue in opera), this spoken text is not accompanied by music. Despite the name “comic opera,” these pieces didn’t necessarily have to be funny; Bizet’s Carmen, a famously tragic opera, originally featured spoken dialogue and was labeled an opéra comique. The term is also the name of an opera house in Paris where operas of this genre were performed and La Fille du Régiment premiered in 1840.
I think the La Fille du Regiment is one of Luciano Pavarotti's greatest recordings. While I prefer Larry(!), you can listen to Pavarotti sing the aria here.
Bonus! Watch here as Soprano Pretty Yende sings Marie’s Act I aria, “Il faut partir” (“I must leave you!”) in the final dress rehearsal of La Fille du Regiment during The Metropolitan Opera, 2018–19 season. The Marquise de Birkenfeld finds that Marie is her niece and requires Marie to live with her at the Marquise's castle. Marie tells the regiment that she must leave them but that she does not want them to be unhappy. She explains the sadness that she will feel when she is away from them.
Thank you for reading (and listening), and feel free to reply with feedback or leave a comment.
Please have a wonderful week,
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured the iconic aria "La mamma morta" and its unforgettable role in the 1993 movie Philadelphia.
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It was Pavarotti's sensational performances in this role that electrified New York audiences and led to his being called "The King of the High Cs" in reviews. Given his career trajectory many don't know that much of his early career was in the Bel Canto repertoire, often paired with Joan Sutherland (one of the queens of this repertoire) where he brought dramatic vocal weight to it unlike that of singers considered "normal" in it such as Rockwell Blake, Mr. Brownlee, or Juan Diego Florez. I was privileged to hear Mr. Brownlee sing Rossini's Barber of Seville at the Lyric Opera in Chicago the fall of 2019 before COVID canceled everything. A terrific night of singing.
Since its American debut in New Orleans on March 7, 1843, the appeal of Gaetano Donizetti’s "La Fille du regiment" in the 21st century surely has more to do with its lovely bel canto music than its improbable plot. It’s a complicated love story, inside a convoluted libretto, with surprising plot twists, and where the protagonist Tonio, and an entire regiment of soldiers, show their softer sides. Had the opera premiered in 1943, rather than 1843, it surely would have been much darker. A bunch of soldiers adopting abandoned infant Marie, and then rearing her as one of their own, has a faint echo of Rome’s founding myth about Romulus, Remus and the she-wolf who nurtured them as babies. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulus_and_Remus). What a marked contrast here to the images of soldiers in Donizetti’s "Roberto Devereux", Bizet’s "Carmen", Verdi’s "Nabucco", Puccini’s "Tosca" and perhaps other operas featured in past "Opera Daily" posts. Plot aside, it was a joy to listen to Lawrence Brownlee and Luciano Pavarotti sing “Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!” (a.k.a. "Pour mon âme”). This line appeared in the Wikipedia entry about Pavarotti, debuting as Tonio: “Luciano Pavarotti broke through to stardom via his 1972 performance alongside Sutherland at the Met, when he leapt over the “Becher's Brook” of the string of high Cs with an aplomb that left everyone gasping." Not for nothing do they call this aria "the Mount Everest for tenors” with its eight high Cs (and a ninth inserted, but not written). Last but not least, true Donizetti fans might want to check out his website : https://www.donizettisociety.com/index.html.
P.S. Look at me! I'm becoming conversant in opera😆! To paraphrase the rapper Drake, "I started at the bottom, now I'm here!" 🎼