Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Some Great Reward

October 27, 2009

Diana Damrau and JDF vs. the world
Photo: Terrence McCarthy/SF Opera 2009

If there was anything that could possibly wash the bad taste of San Francisco Opera’s Salome out of my mouth after Saturday, it would have to be Laurent Pelly’s magnificent staging of La Fille du Régiment. After seeing the world, the production arrived with its tenor, Juan Diego Flórez, still attached to an opera company hell-bent on being an artistic also-ran. But sometimes just wanting to fill your big brother’s shoes as best you can works out, and it certainly did on Sunday. Although I’d seen the production in New York in 2008 and on DVD at least once since, it still induced big smiles and laughs. It also inspired awe not only in Flórez’ well-documented vocalism, but equally so from German soprano Diana Damrau. Damrau is taking over the role of Marie from Natalie Dessay for these San Francisco performances, which are a dry run for the revival of the show at the Metropolitan Opera this spring. Damrau does not quite have the sheer wild pixie energy Dessay has cornered the market on and paraded all over the world. However, Damrau's voice is warmer and richer, giving Marie a more innocent and girlish flair. She is also quite funny in the part and does manage to keep the energy level high in Pelly’s near-maniacal version of events. Damrau and Flórez are an operatic dream delivering a technically challenging performance with seeming effortlessness. I’ll admit that in New York Flórez seemed to have a sharp edge at times especially in the big showpiece, “Ah mes amis”. But here, away from the spotlight of the big New York opening, he sounded more natural and easy. Both stars are amazingly pleasing to hear.

And, even though the rest of the artistic team may not have had quite such celebrated names, the quality was just as good. I was especially thrilled to see Meredith Arwady in such a meaty comic role as the Marquise of Berkenfeld. She was superior throughout and clearly was having a good time doing it. Bruno Praticò sang Sulpice with great timing and energy. In the pit was Andriy Yurkevych making his U.S. conducting debut with a lively and well-paced turn. I did feel the chorus could have used a little more rehearsal time, but, frankly, given the overall quality of the show, it’s just quibbling. This is a radiant staging that matches Donizetti’s tone almost to perfection. Of course, there continue to be complaints from some quarters about the aggressively fervent approach Pelly takes towards comedy. But this is La Fille, not Götterdämmerung, and if you can’t get a little wound up and have some fun here, where can you? Bringing in this production may not have required any thought outside of connecting the dots for San Francisco Opera, but it was a very good move and the show is rightfully a huge success. There are two more performances this week.



I went in expecting little and ended up telling everyone that it was a legendary performance. Glad you caught it. And I knew better than to go to "Salome." Life's too short.
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