La fille du régiment – opera in two acts to a libretto by J. H. Vernoy de Saint-Georges & Jean-François Bayard [sung in French with English surtitles]
Marie – Hye-Youn Lee
Tonio – Luciano Botelho
Sulpice – Graeme Broadbent
La Marquise de Berkenfeld – Sarah Pring
Hotensius – Stefan Holmstrom
La Duchesse de Crakentorp – Nuala Willis
Corporal – Aidan Smith
Peasant – Alex Routledge
Opera Holland Park Chorus
City of London Sinfonia
William Kerley – Director
James Clutton – Producer
Tom Rogers – Designer
Colin Grenfell – Lighting Designer
Mandy Demetriou – Choreographer
Lesley-Anne Sammons – Repetiteur
Ron Freeman – Wigs & Make-up
Tara Cole – Costume Supervisor
Paul Hastie & Richard Dearsley – Surtitles Translation & Operation
Reviewed by: Michael Darvell
Reviewed: 6 June, 2008
Venue: Opera Holland Park, London
Although Donizetti’s comic opera “La fille du régiment”, the first the composer wrote for the Opera-Comique in Paris, has always been in the popular repertoire in Europe since it first appeared in 1840, it still remains a relative rarity in the UK. Alongside “L’elisir d’amore” and “Don Pasquale”, “La fille du régiment” completes a brilliant trio of comic-operas from this most prolific of composers that are constantly in the repertoire of opera houses.
So why is “La fille du régiment” not performed more in the UK? It has proved to be one of the best comic-operas ever written and for once it is genuinely funny as well as being rather touching. Until last year London hadn’t seen a new production since the staging in 1964 by The Royal Opera with Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti. The Royal Opera’s new co-production with The Metropolitan Opera and Vienna Staatsoper was therefore a surprising and long overdue success last year, not least because it featured Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez in the principal roles of Marie and Tonio, the former the daughter of the 21st-Regiment of the French Army, the latter the young man from the Tyrol who has fallen in love with her, after he saved her from a mountain accident.
And now here it is again in a new staging for Opera Holland Park and, if it doesn’t have quite the production-values lavished on it at Covent Garden, this is still a most enjoyable staging with a lot to recommend it. With its awkwardly wide but shallow-depth stage, the Holland Park Theatre is difficult to design for. However, in Act One Tom Rogers has solved the problem by having three sets of ‘Alps’, triangular pyramid shapes that can be manipulated to form mountains or anything that comes to mind including a Virgin Mary figure that dispenses drinks. The Act Two chateau scene is a delightful period-room setting that any opera house would be pleased to find a home for. The costumes, too, are colourful, with red tunics and big hats for the soldiers and some suitably becoming dresses for the ladies.
Dresses are not, however, what Marie, the vivandière daughter of the regiment who travels with the army and provides it with vino and victuals, is actually worried about. She is just one of the boys, a sort of Calamity Jane figure, and the company treats her like a long-lost sister they have adopted as one of their own, having found her abandoned on a battlefield. When Marie decides she wants to marry Tonio, her young admirer and saviour, she discovers she may wed only another member of the regiment, so Tyrolean Tonio has to be inducted into the French army. Marie’s aunt, the Marquise de Berkenfeld, however, has other marriage plans for her that do not involve common soldiers. She tries to get her friend La Duchesse de Crakentorp to educate the tomboy Marie in music and dance but her heart is not in it.
Having said that, however, Hye-Youn Lee, the Korean soprano who sings the part of Marie, certainly has her heart in the music and she sings like a dream. Whether it is in her farewell song to the troops, ‘Il faut partir…’, or when she is rousing them to arms in ‘Chacun le sait’, she is a total delight. And she is also a good actress with a great command of comic playing and timing. Singing opposite her as Tonio is Brazilian tenor Luciano Botelho, who looks not unlike Flórez (indeed, Botelho will be covering Flórez in Rossini’s “Matilde di Shabran” at The Royal Opera this coming October). He gives a charming performance as the rather shy lad who is lovestruck by the girl he saved from certain death on a precipice. Botelho attempts to reach the giddy heights of a Flórez or even a Pavarotti (who made his name with the high Cs of the aria ‘Pour mon ậme’) and for most of the time he gets there without too much effort. He certainly has a good and pleasant-sounding voice and he makes Tonio an endearing if rather gauche figure of fun.
There is excellent support and not a weak link in the cast. Graeme Broadbent’s Sulpice, the French sergeant, makes a popular figure out of the part, animated like mad and very amusing with it, like a clockwork soldier being wound-up and let go at breakneck speed. As the two haughty ladies, the Marquise and the Duchesse, Sarah Pring and Nuala Willis are like a couple of Lady Bracknells and they play the comedy with great style, making it even funnier. William Kerley’s production has wit and pace and Robert Dean’s orchestra play with renewed vigour after the cold, wet first night of the season, while the chorus sings its army boots off! This one should run and run … a delight in every way.
- The first night was on June 4
- Further performances on 11, 13, 17, 19 & 21 June
- Box Office: 0845 230 9769
- Tickets £10.00 to £52.00 with some concessions
- Opera Holland Park