Donizetti put a straightforward label on La Fille du Régiment: “comic opera.” Rarely have two words been so appropriate together. Nothing is sacred here—not love of country, not the devoted “bands of brothers” that form in time of war, not war itself, and, above all, not opera. La Fille demands the highest level of technical skill from performers—all in service of a goodnatured parody of operatic pretension and excess. Together, the skill and the humor can make this work enlightening for young people. And for all listeners, it is a fine introduction to the beauty of bel canto opera.
The Met’s new production of La Fille elevates the satire to new heights of social commentary. The armies of Act I may resemble toy soldiers stumbling across mountain ridges made of folded maps, but their grip on reality seems firmer than that of the aristocrats whose home they literally invade in Act II. Both the opera itself and this production may provoke students to ponder analogies with the world they’ve come to know, growing up in a time of war.
This guide is designed to help young people appreciate the story, the humor, and the style of La Fille du Régiment. By enhancing students’ acquaintance with La Fille in advance of The Met: Live in HD transmission, this guide can help them address the meanings, the craft and the artistry of this Met Opera production.
The activities in this guide address several aspects of La Fille du Régiment:
The characteristics and uses of the bel canto style;
The forms and implications of humor in comic opera;
The role of art as social commentary; and
The opera as a unified work involving a wide range of creative decisions by the composer, the librettist, and the artists of the Metropolitan Opera.
The guide seeks not only to acquaint students with La Fille du Régiment, but also to encourage them to think more broadly about opera—and the performing arts in general—as a means of personal and philosophical expression. Little prior knowledge is required for the activities.
The first half of the 19th century saw the introduction of the operatic style known as bel canto—in Italian, “beautiful singing.” For many opera lovers, bel canto represents the epitome of the art—a purity of sound, a soaring achievement of the human voice, a sensory experience without compare. For some, on the other hand, the sound of bel canto brings to mind the most comical of opera stereotypes. In La Fille du Régiment, Donizetti provides ample support for the former view—but not without wry reference to the latter. In this activity, students will:
analyze several examples of bel canto;
experiment in making sound with their own voices;
consider analogies to bel canto in other forms of art and music; and
prepare their ears for this noteworthy aspect of La Fille du Régiment.
Laughing with Donizetti, Not at Him
Movie box office receipts and television ratings leave no doubt: Young people love comedy. But nowadays, outside the occasional joke about the “fat lady” singing or the musical escapades of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, few probably associate comedy with opera. For them, “comic opera” might sound like a contradiction in terms—or worse, a redundancy. This activity seeks to prepare students not only to recognize, but to respond to the humor in Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment. They will:
consider differences between tragedy and comedy as approaches to opera in particular and storytelling in general;
acquaint themselves with comic devices used in opera and drama; and
identify comedic characteristics specific both to La Fille du Régiment and to the Met’s new production, in anticipation of the Live in HD transmission.