In a show that had audience members
shrieking with laughter and giving prolonged standing ovations, the all
Canadian cast made us proudly patriotic. Director Ann Hodges showed a singular
touch for comedy in this impressive mounting.
Front and centre was rising star soprano and Winnipeg native Nikki Einfeld
as Marie, the title character. Each time we hear Einfeld her instrument seems
to have become more refined. Trim and petite in her becoming military outfit,
she was enchanting as the rough and tumble young woman raised by 23
“fathers” — soldiers of the 21st Regiment of the Grenadiers.
In contrast to her tomboyish demeanour, her voice was pure feminine lightness,
possessing a subtle buoyancy that while not overpowering, had underlying
strength and confidence. This was ideally suited to the spunky Marie, as she
arm-wrestled baritone Theodore Baerg, playing Sergeant Sulpice. Her scene in
the castle, in which she struggles to figure out how to put on a fashionable
hat, was a scream.
The story takes place in the early 1800s, in the Swiss Tyrolean Mountains.
Set designer Beni Montressor (set and props provided by Edmonton Opera) has put
together an interestingly rustic and colourful presentation that looks
hand-drawn. Creative lighting by Bill Williams brought the best out of this
quite simple set.
While the work is sung in French with English surtitles, the English
dialogue enabled the audience to get more involved. Canadian actress Fiona
Reid, best known for her role as Al Waxman’s ever-patient wife on King of
Kensington was a late replacement for ailing comedienne Mary Walsh. Reid, as
the Duchess of Krackenthorp, had us in stitches in what amounted to a stand-up
routine full of hysterical cracks about Winnipeg and Canadian politicians. From
our rapid transit system to Mayor Katz to the controversial water park project
and new Ikea, Reid poked fun at our city to the crowd’s delight.
The entire ensemble was strong, with tenor John Tessier a most romantic
Tonio, Marie’s love interest. Tessier has a lovely, limpid voice that
carries extremely well. With its warm timbre, he seems to float to the highest
notes, as in the famous aria “A mes amis,” in which he reeled off a
whopping nine high Cs, completely free of strain. Best of all was the chemistry
between the two lovers. Marie, desolate at having to leave the regiment to live
with her new-found aunt, the Marquise of Berkenfeld, exhibited abundant control
in her silkily crafted phrases, soaked in sadness. In “Qui! Vous
m’aimez?,” Tonio expressed his love for Marie so sweetly, it was
all she could do to resist. The passion was palpable.
Mezzo soprano Rebecca Hass was delightfully haughty as the Marquise, showing
great comic style. Fancying herself an attractive target for the French
soldiers, she preened and criticized in “Pour une femme de mon nom”
in clear and true voice. David Playfair played her nattily dressed butler,
Hortensius with superb physical humour and panache.
Baerg’s fatherly Sulpice was one of the strongest showings of the
evening. In colourful uniform, (wardrobe by Malabar Ltd. Toronto) he cut a
dashing figure with his silvery hair. And then there was his voice — a
voice that warms the cockles of your heart with its richness and commitment.
Baerg threw himself whole-heartedly into the role of Marie’s
The Manitoba Opera Chorus was kept busy: practically every scene demanded
their presence. They were wonderful — dressed to the nines, with
convincing acting and full-bodied singing. As Marie’s many fathers, the
soldiers’ doting was especially appealing.
As always, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra helped make this production
special. From the opening plaintive horn call to the final triumphant note of
“Salut ‡ la France,” conductor Tadeusz Biernacki milked every
melody to its fullest. Special mention must be offered for the touching cello
line in Marie’s aria, “C’en est donc fait” that set the
scene so beautifully.
product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: The Daughter of the Regiment
product_by=Click here for cast and other production information.
product_id=Above: Gaetano Donizetti