La Fille du Régiment, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2010Posted on 18 May 2010
To a lover of darkly dramatic operas such as Tristan, Tosca, and Trovatore, this Donizetti work might seem rather trivial, but of its type it’s brilliant, and Natalie Dessay is unsurpassable in the role of Marie. She’s vivacious, and utterly believable, as is Juan Diego Flórez in the role of Tonio. His rendering of the great tenor aria Ah! mes amis in Act I, with all its high Cs, was greeted with huge applause. These two formed a perfect match, brilliantly supported by the rest of the cast, who were all entirely at home in their roles. Alessandro Corbelli was a wonderful Sulpice, sergeant of the regiment and surrogate father to Marie. Ann Murray gave a finely nuanced portrayal of the Marquise of Berkenfeld, with Donald Maxwell perfectly fitting the role of her Major-Domo. And Dawn French in the speaking role of the Duchess of Crackentorp had excellent comic timing and stage presence.
The performers could hardly be better, but it’s their interactions within Laurent Pelly’s wonderful production that makes these performances work so well. While the staging of Act I is cleverly done on a map of the area in Switzerland where this opera supposedly takes place, Act II is the pièce de résistance of the production. It starts with four maids cleaning, their movements choreographed in time to the music, and continues with one small nugget of comedy after another. For example it’s a rare opera production that has one singer playing a piano accompaniment for another, rather than miming what a pianist in the orchestra is playing, but that is exactly what Ann Murray did for Natalie Dessay, and it was followed by Ms. Dessay and Mr. Corbelli having a go on the piano themselves. The entrance of the wedding guests was wittily done, and the use of different languages was a delight. While the opera was performed in French, Dawn French herself occasionally made sharp comments in English, translated by French surtitles — a lovely touch. And when push came to shove and the French soldiers ousted the Major-Domo from the room, he burst into German!
Then to top it all there was the beautiful musical direction of Bruno Campanella. His conducting had a rhythmic energy that received a spontaneous round of applause immediately after the overture, and kept things moving throughout the opera. This was the same cast I saw three years ago — except that Ann Murray has replaced Felicity Palmer — and it’s a cast that has to be seen. Any young lover of opera should visit these performances so that in fifty years’ time they can tell their grandchildren they once saw Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez in the roles of Marie and Tonio — a pairing that will be difficult to beat for the rest of their lives.
Student standby tickets are sometimes available, and performances continue until June 3.