The Royal Opera – La Fille du Régiment [Florez & Dessay]

La Fille du Régiment [Sung in French with English surtitles]

Marie – Natalie Dessay
Tonio – Juan Diego Flórez
Sulpice – Alessandro Corbelli
Marquise de Berkenfield – Felicity Palmer
Hortensins – Donald Maxwell
Duchesse de Crackentorp – Dawn French
The Corporal – Bryden Secombe
The peasant – Luke Price
The notary – Jean-Pierre Blanchard

The Royal Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Bruno Campanella

Laurent Pelly – Director & Costume designs
Chantal Thomas – Sets
Joël Adam – Lighting
Laura Scozzi – Choreography

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 11 January, 2007
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

For decades I had waited to see “La Fille du Régiment”. I fell for Donizetti’s sparkling melodies immediately on hearing a recording of the Italian version on Cetra LPs about 50 years ago. The most famous of the arias today is probably the tenor’s ‘Ah, mes amis’, the one with numerous top Cs; Marie’s ‘Chacun le sait’ and ‘Salut à la France’ have also made their mark. The ensembles simply bubble with fun. More serious are Marie’s ‘Il faut partir’ and Tonio’s ‘Pour me rapprocher de Marie’. Was my long wait rewarded by this new production at Covent Garden? Oh yes; definitely yes.

The opera received its premiere at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, in 1840, and contains spoken dialogue, in accordance with the custom at that theatre.

A fine cast has been assembled for the Royal Opera’s presentation of “La Fille du Régiment”, with Natalie Dessay in the title-role and Juan Diego Flórez as the young man in love with Marie. Apart from being a first-rate singer, Dessay showed herself to be an amusing comedienne, full of vivacity and with boundless energy. Some of her movements were smile-inducing in themselves. She sailed with ease and accuracy through the coloratura passages and delighted with pin-point floated top notes as needed. She presented a character who at times resembled a troublesome, tomboyish teenager, yet she sang with the skill of a polished artist. She was matched by a tenor who is just as dextrous in his singing of bel canto. Flórez has demonstrated many times in recitals that ‘Ah mes amis’ holds no terrors for him and he did not disappoint on this occasion. What was equally enjoyable was the quiet singing of ‘Pour me rapprocher’, which proved that Flórez can be as vocally elegant as he is virtuosic. They made a convincing pair.

Donizetti gave the plums to Marie and Tonio, but Sulpice, sergeant of the 21st Regiment, who had found the young Marie on a battlefield years before, provides opportunities for a skilful comic performance. Nobody fills that better than Alessandro Corbelli, who is a frequent and welcome visitor to Covent Garden. He has no aria here, but his voice, rather dry, sits well in the ensembles, and he times his reactions intelligently. As the Marquise, who turns out to be Marie’s mother, Felicity Palmer creates a model of superficial primness, and her rich contralto adds to the colour and the humour.

Bruno Campanella, an experienced, figure in conducting comic operas, added fizz and effervescence to the on-stage sparkle, with the orchestra corresponding in full measure.

The production, by Laurent Pelly, had some genuinely funny touches, as when Tonio, on one side of the soldiers, tried to evade Sulpice to reach Marie on the other. How many of Marie’s antics, such as her unladylike gait, were devised by Pelly and how much input came from Dessay I cannot know. I did think it a slight miscalculation that in the scene in which Marie rehearses her song the Marquise’s piano faces upstage to a degree, with Palmer singing away from the audience somewhat, thus creating some lack of balance in the trio. As the Duchess, Dawn French did her bit: a cameo turn which brought forth much laughter. The opera was generally treated with respect, with the joy being in it.

It was, then, an evening of delightful tunes, good fun, and, most importantly, fine singing, with a wonderful all-round performance by Dessay. Enthusiastic applause greeted everyone’s endeavours, and rightly so.

  • Remaining performances on 18, 20, 23, 25 & 29 January, and 1 February, at 7.30; on 14 January at 3 p.m.; and on 27 January at 7.00
  • Box office: 020 7304 4000
  • Royal Opera

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