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Behind the Scenes: 'The Daughter of the Regiment'

January 23, 2013 8:55 a.m.

KPBS arts critic Beth Accomando sits in on a San Diego Opera rehearsal.

Related Story: Behind The Scenes: 'The Daughter Of The Regiment'


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR INTRO: The San Diego Opera kicks off it's 48th season next weekend with The Daughter of the Regiment opening this Saturday. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando sat in on a rehearsal to get the low down on singing the high C's in the opera's famous aria.

Putting on an opera is tough work but in San Diego the task is made even harder by an intense schedule that requires performers, crew members, sets, costumes, props, and wigs to all be ready in a mere 3 weeks says Nicolas Reveles, San Diego Opera's Geisel Director of Education.

NICOLAS REVELES: It's a very condensed process. We don't have the luxury in the United States to be able to have lengthy rehearsal periods so we have to get everything in a much more concentrated amount of time.

The San Diego Opera has not staged a production of Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment since 1990. The opera tells the story of a Marie, a young girl raised by a regiment of soldiers that found her as an infant.

NICOLAS REVELES: La Fille Du Regiment, the Daughter of the Regiment, was written for the Opera Comique in Paris, 1840, it wasn't the kind of serious or tragic opera that you would see at the Paris opera, at the big opera company... in terms of this opera I think people will be surprised that there is spoken dialogue.

STEPHEN COSTELLO: It's kind of a first for me, I'm trying to get a hold of where I have to be funny and where I have to be serious and it's also my first time doing dialogue as well so that frightens the hell out of me.

Stephen Costello is the tenor singing the role of Tonio, a young man who falls in love with Marie. He also has a central role in one of the opera's comic high points says Reveles.

NICOLAS REVELES: In fact one of the most important comic elements is Tonio's Aria, the famous aria that has 9 hi C's.

YVES ABEL: It's a tour de force for the tenor.

Yves Abel is the conductor.

YVES ABEL: Everybody's going to the opera to hear it, and everybody's hoping the guy makes it through it.

STEPHEN COSTELLO: The challenge is that a tenor named Luciano Pavarotti who everybody knows, has ruined the opera world for tenors because he sings The Daughter of the Regiment aria very easily and he makes it very famous.

CLIP Pavoratti singing

Again Nicolas Reveles.

NICOLAS REVELES: Well the reason he sings nine high C's is that he's just been given permission to marry Marie by the entire regiment of soldiers who are her father so his reaction immediately is to start singing really extreme notes to express his happiness. I think there's just a little bit of a off color joke going on there with Donizetti, those high C's that are constantly reaching up... I like to call it with my audience if you'll forgive me, music on a little blue pill.

For Abel, he's just trying to help his tenor sail the high C's with ease.

YVES ABEL: I'm listening to the comfort level of the singer and I'm listening to how he feels while he's singing that and if he feels a certain amount of strain how can I help him out, can I make the tempo a little bit faster for him, the speed of the aria faster, can I make it slower so that he has more time to get it into his body and through his technical mechanism.

Costello is like an athlete who's been in training and can't wait for the starting gun to go off.

STEPHEN COSTELLO: It's exactly like an athlete... I have to sing it every day because like when you exercise, you have to keep it up, you have to get it in the same position consistently every time and you also have to keep your stamina up and you have to keep your air flowing and... you have to hit those high C's every single time and you have to be sure that when you let them go they will be there.

But on the first day of rehearsal, Costello says the high C's aren't there.

STEPHEN COSTELLO: I've been flying and the problem is when you fly your voice dries out.

So the only way to hear Costello's vocal acrobatics is to go see The Daughter of the Regiment during its run in San Diego.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.