Bel canto and the ensemble

Donizetti – La Fille du régiment

Marie – Ina Schlingensiepen
Tonio – Eleazar Rodríguez
Sulpice – Edward Gauntt
Marquise de Berkenfield – Rebecca Raffell
Hortensius – Lucas Harbour
Duchesse de Crakentorp – Anna-Magdalena Beetz

Badischer Staatsopernchor, Badische Staatskapelle / Johannes Willig.
Stage director – Aurelia Eggers

Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe.  Thursday, November 14th, 2013.

The Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe is a great house combining all that is good about the German system. Affordable ticket prices, great sightlines, an impressively strong ensemble and a fine orchestra and chorus. Karlsruhe itself offers some good shopping opportunities and is only an hour from Frankfurt Airport on the ICE. Hotel prices are reasonable and the public transit system is efficient. Programming at the theatre is adventurous – I saw one of the finest stagings of Troyens I have ever seen there and recent and forthcoming productions include Peter Grimes and Doctor Atomic. It certainly has a lot to offer the opera-lover and is well worth a visit.

Tonight’s Fille du régiment epitomized exactly the qualities that make the Karlsruhe house an excellent place to see a show. There was a true ensemble cast and the orchestral playing and choral singing were of a very high quality. I first came across the young Mexican tenor Eleazar Rodríguez as a sensational Iopas in the Karlsruhe Troyens. He sang his glorious aria as if it had been written for him. Tonight, in a much larger role he was outstanding. Naturally, everyone looks forward to ‘pour mon âme’ and he sang it with wonderful abandon, sheer ease throughout the range and nine spot-on top Cs. But it was so much more than that. He sang with a richness of tone that is rare in this repertoire and shaded his instrument with great care. He also has impeccable French. A highly promising artist who reminded me of a young Alfredo Kraus.

It might be hard to think of Marie without thinking of a certain French soprano who owned the role over the last decade. Yet tonight, Ina Schlingensiepen, made the role her own and made me forget about her predecessor, singing a fearless Marie with easy coloratura and an crystalline top. She also had sparkling chemistry with Rodríguez and she was an affecting actor. Her voice carries well and it has great personality. Another striking voice was Rebecca Raffell’s Marquise. A genuine contralto she seems to have a massive voice that is as deep as the Pacific and she certainly dominates the stage. Lucas Harbour’s Hortensius and Edward Gauntt’s Sulpice were both sung with ease and great comic timing.

Johannes Willig conducted a fluent reading of this scintillating score. I would have preferred perhaps a little more swing and more pointing of the rhythms but it was very well played by the Badische Staatskapelle. The Chorus had a very good evening, ensemble was tight and the blend was good. The arias were performed in French and the dialogue in German. Naturally, I would have preferred the whole thing in French but for a German audience it certainly made sense. Diction on the whole was excellent. Aurelia Eggers’ production was efficient enough with several extremely humorous touches. The face off between Marianne and Austria at the start and their constant reappearances throughout the show certainly set the plot up nicely. There were some great visual effects such as the regiment’s laundry being put into a washing machine and soap bubbles emerging from it. It told the story in a very efficient way and allowed the cast to create performances that were witty and entertaining.

This Fille was a perfect showcase for the terrific Karlsruhe ensemble. It brought the story to life in an accessible way but also created theatre that was musical and uplifting. It was definitely worth the journey.

Photo: (C) Falk von Traubenberg

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