Daughter of the Regiment

We generally go to 3 of the 5 operas in Santa Fe each summer. After two heavy tragedies, last night’s Daughter of the Regiment, a comic opera in the French style, was a welcome change. The plot is inconsequential except for the excuses to sing in a variety of formats. The tenor, Tonio, has  a lot of good parts, but this opera in known for the famous tenor aria often called the Nine High Cs aria for a reason you can probably guess. Most of the aria is pitched about a fifth below the C and the tenor teases you by popping up to the C for one note and then quickly dropping back (which, in my view as a tenor, is not all that hard). The last C, however, is a long held note, and the tenor last night, Alek Schrader, did a beautiful job.

For you non-tenors, the C in question is the one above middle C in the piano. This is generally right at the top of the range for real tenors. For those people singing tenor who were drafted from the Baritone section, it is generally well above the top of the range.

Tonio is paired with Marie, the daughter of the regiment (she was found as a baby on the battlefield and was raised by the regiment). Last night’s Marie was Anna Christy who played the part beautifully. This part has been sung by many distinguished singers including  Lily Pons in the 40s, Joan Sutherland (against Luciano Pavarotti) in the 60s, and more recently Natalie Dessay.

This was Donizetti’s first opera after he arrived in Parisin 1840. It didn’t do well when it opened but eventually it became popular. The regiment in question is french and there is lots of martial music (the regiment boasted of itself that it was the best regiment in the French Army because it had an open line of credit at every bar in France). The opera eventually became so popular it was performed every Bastille Day for many years.

Once again the evening was beautiful. All the rain was earlier in the day, so we enjoyed our tailgate picnic before the performance. We drifted into the theater just before the opera started, and were treated to a beautiful production. It was everything a Santa Fe Opera evening can be.

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Cold Mountain

The Santa Fe opera is producing the World Premier of Cold Mountain by Jennifer Higdon with libretto by Gene Scheer. We saw it last Saturday.

It is, in many ways, a very modern production. Dissonant music. A set consisting of a “pile of scrap lumber”, sort of like a giant pick-up-sticks. The set was intended to convey the destruction of the South after the war was mostly over, and it did a good job of that. Interesting lighting and spectacular projections (i’ve never seen anything like that). There was some sort of invisible screen at the front of the stage on which they projected things like a starry sky and falling snow. The screen must have been there all the time, but it was neither visually nor acoustically in the way. Spectacular, but not at all like projecting things on big screens like the side of a building.

I had never read the book, so I started at the beginning of the week. I don’t have much reading time and am a pretty slow reader, anyway, so I only got through about 130 pages by opera time. My impression was the book presented colorful, poetic, and interesting impressions of the characters, but there wasn’t anything I would have put in an opera. That only shows you how much I know about being a librettist–several episodes from the early part of the book appeared in the opera.

Cold Mountain is in southwest North Carolina. At the time of the civil war, it was very remote, and by the end of the war, life was very hard there. Not knowing where it i located, I looked it up with a mapping program. From looking at the map, one could guess that things haven’t changed too much since the war. There are still very few roads, but some of them are now paved. Much of it is National Forest land and few people live there even today. I imagine life is still difficult and government still has difficulty being relevant.

Saturday was another beautiful summer evening. We drove our little motorhome up to stay in our friends’ driveway so we wouldn’t have to spend the hour or so to drive home after the opera–I’m getting too old to like getting home and going to bed after midnight, so the driveway surfing option was very attractive and worked out well. Getting up and going to breakfast with our friends was also very nice. I think we’ll do it again this week when we go to see “Daughter of the Regiment.”

Cold Mountain is a very intense opera. It took so much concentration on the singers that it was midway through the first act before I realized I hadn’t really been paying any attention to the orchestra. It takes work, but I think a second hearing would be very enjoyable. There were also a couple of male chorus pieces that were spectacular. If you get a chance to see it, you should do so!

Rigoletto

Rigoletto tonight in Santa Fe.

It’s a hot summer day here and in Santa Fe where we are headed for a performance of Rigoletto. We do this about 3 times every summer. Drive to Santa Fe, meet our opera-going friends at their house and drive to the theater together. We have a tradition of a tailgate picnic in the parking lot. The last few years, we have indulged in the gourmet picnics offered through the opera, so we sit in the parking lot with a table cloth covered card table, sipping a chilled glass of wine and eating a wonderful picnic meal. There is a lecture about the opera at 7–always worth attending even if you know the opera, and then the performance begins at 8.

Rigoletto seems to have come out of the same nineteenth century tradition that produced melodramas in the American west. It is almost comically tragic. The tragic end occurs in the midst of a raging storm. One of the interesting things about the Santa Fe theater is that it is partly open. You can see through the stage to the mountains to the west. And, although it is currently very hot, there is a strong possibility that there will be a thunder storm around 10 pm, just when it would be needed in the plot.

Whether the natural storm materializes or not, there will be raging and storm clouds in the theater, and it will be a great entertainment.