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

In Parenthesis, Welsh National Opera in London

‘A century after the Somme, who still stands with Britain?’ So read a headline in yesterday’s Evening Standard on the eve of the centenary of the first day of that battle which, 141 days later, would grind to a halt with 1,200,000 British, French, German and Allied soldiers dead or injured.

Die Walküre, Opera North

A day is now a very long time indeed in politics; would that it were otherwise. It certainly is in the Ring, as we move forward a generation to Die Walküre.

Early Gluck arias at the Wigmore Hall

If composers had to be categorised as either conservatives or radicals, Christoph Willibald Gluck would undoubtedly be in the revolutionary camp, lauded for banishing display, artifice and incoherence from opera and restoring simplicity and dramatic naturalness in his ‘reform’ operas.

Das Rheingold, Opera North

Das Rheingold is, of course, the reddest in tooth and claw of all Wagner’s dramas - which is saying something.

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

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):