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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



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

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