Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

Soldier Songs in San Diego

David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.

Barber of Seville [Hollywood Style] in Los Angeles

On Saturday evening November 12, 2016, Pacific Opera Project presented Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville in an updated version that placed the action in Hollywood. It was sung in the original Italian but the translation seen as supertitles was specially written to match the characters’ Hollywood identities.

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

A Butterfly for the ages in a Butterfly marred by casting ineptness and lugubrious conducting.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Natalie Dessay as Marie and Juan Diego Flórez As Tonio [Photo by The Royal Opera / Bill Cooper]
20 May 2010

La Fille du régiment, Royal Opera

Expectations were running high for the opening night of Elaine Kidd’s revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s mad-cap romp, La Fille du regiment — almost as high as Tonio’s infamous top Cs.

Gaetano Donizetti: La Fille du régiment

Conductor: Bruno Campanella;Tonio: Juan Diego Flórez; Marie: Natalie Dessay; Sulpice: Alessandro Corbelli; La Marquise de Berkenfeld: Ann Murray; Hortensius: Donald Maxwell; La Duchesse de Crackentorp: Dawn French. Director: Laurent Pelly. Associate Director/Dialogue: Agathe Mélinand. Revival Director: Elaine Kidd. Set Designer: Chantal Thomas. Costume Designer: Laurent Pelly. Lighting Designer: Joël Adam. Choreography: Laura Scozzi. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Monday 17th May 2010.

Above: Natalie Dessay as Marie and Juan Diego Flórez As Tonio

All photos by The Royal Opera / Bill Cooper

 

First staged to glorious reviews in 2007, in fact this co-production with the Vienna State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, New York, has seldom been ‘out-of-production’ during the last two years; but Covent Garden has reassembled almost all the members of the original stellar cast, re-uniting French soprano, Natalie Dessay, as the gamine, gambolling Marie, with Juan Diego Flórez’ charming, heart-winning Tonio.

Even by the standards of 1840s opéra comique, the libretto is wildly implausible. But Pelly relishes the improbabilities and excesses, envisaging Donizetti’s trifle as a Gilbert & Sullivanesque caper; his staging abounds with visual gags which inject much energy humour into the text, which is itself enlivened by some smart one-liners (‘It’s raining soldiers’) and a co-mingling of English and French which neatly complements the franglais accents on stage. Certainly, the manic visual stimuli — lines of dancing long-johns, balletic dusting routines, a coup de théâtre tank - deftly keep at bay any potential dramatic languors; but, while satire is undoubtedly a vital element of the genre there is perhaps a danger that Pelly’s farce indulges in just a touch too much self-ridicule — surely Donizetti is sincere in his flippancy and frivolity?

As the regiment’s adopted daughter/skivvy, Natalie Dessay is certainly committed: from her first entrance — stumbling beneath a toppling mound of regimental laundry — she flounces and flops, stamps and strops, wildly throwing herself around the stage in a ceaseless comic routine à la Chaplin. Not afraid to squawk and screech, she savours the dialogue, spitting out Gallic ‘Merde!’s a-plenty, and confirms her reputation as one of the finest actors currently on the operatic stage. This is fast becoming a signature role — and indeed it is hard to imagine this production without Dessay — but there some alarming signs of dramatic and vocal wear-and-tear. Her comic timing may be exemplary, with coloratura pinging perfectly to a twang of the braces; and the top Ds and Es may ring true and clear even as she is tossed and twirled by her military ‘daddies’; but the price to pay for such a breath-taking performance may literally be the taking of Dessay’s breath. On more than one occasion she seemed exhausted by her own exuberance and, worryingly, in quieter moments her voice became rather pale, on occasion fading completely. Punching out the regimental song as she darted up and down the map-inscribed mountains of Chantal Thomas’s Act 1 set, Dessay effectively captured the drive and ambition of the military milieu, but if familiarity breeds excess and exaggeration, there is a danger that her performance could become a caricature of itself.

If Dessay never quite attained a true bel canto lyricism, Juan Diego Flórez’ light, high tenor is perfect for this part. Nonchalant leaps to the 9 successive high Cs in ‘Ah, mes amis’ were more than matched, even outshone, by a moving, tender declaration of love in his Act 2 aria, ‘Pour me rapprocher de Marie’. Although the voice is a little unyielding, the homogenous, even beauty of tone is astonishing, and it was hard to believe that the sweet, tenderness of the daringly hushed closing phrase could fail to touch the heart of the daughter-denying Marquise de Berkenfeld.

LA-FILLE-BC20100514204-(C)B.gifDawn French as La Duchesse De Crackentorp and Ann Murray as La Marquise De Berkenfeld

For all Pelly’s attention to dramatic detail, there was however a disappointing absence of genuine ‘chemistry’ between the star pair. Fortunately, Ann Murray’s self-important Marquise and Alessandro Corbelli’s soft-hearted Sulpice more than made up for this lack of erotic spark, with masterly embodiments of haughty elegance and paternal indulgence respectively. Her voice may lack some of its former sheen, but Murray knows how to command a stage and her entrance aria, 'Pour une femme de mon nom', was instantly engaging and convincing. Amusingly accompanying Dessay at the piano during the singing-lesson scene, she more than matched the master Corbelli for comic timing.

Queen of TV comedy, Dawn French, in the speaking role of the Duchess de Crackentorp, reprised her Vicar of Dibley trademarks, eliciting laughs by the mere raising of the eyebrow and stopping just a whisker short of overkill. Donald Maxwell as Hortensius completed the ‘dream cast’. They were complemented by a superb male chorus, although their female counterparts, admittedly less busy, were not quite up to the rest of the regiment’s mark.

LA-FILLE-BC20100514024-CORB.gifAlessandro Corbelli as Sulpice Pingot

Bruno Campanella conducted a rather scruffy performance from the Royal Opera House orchestra: although the pit-stage balance was excellent, the tempi were a bit ragged, and cast and band were occasionally out-of-step. However, things tightened up in the second Act, and a stunning solo ’cello introduced Dessay’s ‘C’en est donc fait’.

Florez’ light elegance shows no signs of waning, but Dessay can surely not reprise this role indefinitely. Although her Marie is at times less hyperactive tomboy and more hysterical Lucia, this is not a show to miss. Grab a ticket — even if you have to mount a military campaign to hunt one down.

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):