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La Fille

May 3, 2008

Bart Schneider

Last Saturday I picked up one of the last tickets for the Metropolitan Opera’s live simulcast of Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment. The preferred local theater, for both its sound quality and stadium seating, was a cineplex in a god-forsaken suburb of Minneapolis, where the folks are really into god. I ended up with a small bucket of popcorn and a seat in the the middle of the front row. Once I tilted back and beheld a high-definition version of soprano Renee Fleming, the beautiful, if slightly vapid, backstage host, on the massive screen, I knew I was going to give myself to the experience. La Fille du Regiment is a playful bit of fluff with a handful of fine arias, especially for the tenor, sung winningly by the boyish, bright-eyed Peruvian, Juan Diego-Florez.

There was a palpable sigh from the theater audience as everybody’s voyeuristic desires were satisfied.

But the real glory of the production belongs to La Fille, Marie, with the French coloratura Natalie Dessay turning in a performance of great charm. The screen’s pores-eye view keyed in on the muscularity of Dessay’s performance as a young woman raised by a regiment of French soldiers. Dessay’s rich voice was just fine, though it seemed almost ancillary to the marvel of her acting. which ranged from vein-popping physical to playful, with a wry sense of the absurd. Renee Fleming grabbed the principals after the first act, as they came backstage panting, and both Diego-Florez and Dessay, without skipping a beat, gave warm and self-effacing accounts of the challenges of their roles. There was a palpable sigh from the theater audience as everybody’s voyeuristic desires were satisfied. With this production, the Met completed its second season of simulcast operas beamed by satellite to hundreds of movie theaters across the United States, and Canada, Europe, Australia, and Japan. As my first experience of the enterprise, I have to laud it as a bit of cultural and technical genius. To make opera of this quality accessible to a vast audience almost makes a skeptical character like me believe that there is some form of god.

Bart Schneider was born and raised in San Francisco, where he began writing plays in the late 1970’s and had a number produced in Bay Area theaters before moving to Minnesota in 1983. In 1986, he became the founding editor of Hungry Mind Review, a national book and culture magazine, which he edited for fifteen years. In 2001, Schneider became the literary director of the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. The following year he founded the literary-culture magazine, Speakeasy, which he edited until its demise in 2006. He is the author of four novels: Blue Bossa, Secret Love, Beautiful Inez, and the forthcoming The Man in the Blizzard.

This post originally appeared on Mr. Schneider’s blog.

Copyright 2008 Bart Schneider

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