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MET Live, Donizetti La fille du régiment::  Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera House, New York/Marco Armiliato. Barbican Cinema, 26.4 2008  (CC)

Natalie Dessay is simply a phenomenon. The great star of this production of Donizetti's La fille du régiment, she lit up the stage by her very presence. Her vocal artistry was almost beyond criticism, something all the more remarkable when one considers the physical gymnastics this production requires of her. Never have I seen anyone do the ironing with such vigour!. Her pride in the regiment of which she is the mascot was evident from the very beginning. More, she fitted the part perfectly. Small of stature yet as powerful and with about as much energy as a speeding bullet, she delivered her agile lines with no detectable sense of strain. All the more remarkable, this, considering the physical demands of the staging, and yet in interview Dessay claimed that all the moving about helped take her mind off the vocal hurdles!. The felicitous touches are far too many to mention. Of particular delight was the imitation gunfire of her 'Rataplan', and it should be noted that her Act 1 farewell aria was very, very touching indeed.

Juan Diego Flórez took the part of the lover, Tonio. His big moment comes in the Act 1 aria, 'Ah, mes amis' with its nine top C's. Flórez seemed to have a William Tell-like aim when it came to each of these, hitting every one straight in the middle. Remarkable. Interestingly, earlier in the run he had done something unheard-of at the Met for the last 14 years – he encored the aria. No encore this time, alas, but it was stunningly impressive nonetheless. It is a telling compliment to Dessay that, no matter how good, how confident Flórez was, Dessay was always a step above.

Donald Maxwell's Hortensius and Felicity Palmer's impeccably amusing Marquise de Berkenfield made for a first-class double-act. How wonderful, too, to see the respected bass Alessandro Corbelli (try his lovely Guglielmo in the Muti La Scala Così DVD to explore further). Corbelli has a huge voice, even when he speaks. Here, as Sulpice (the Sergeant of the 21st Regiment), he was absolutely in his element. In her element, also, was Felicity Palmer as the deliciously over-the-top Marquise of Berkenfield, matched only the the actress Marian Seldes as the Duchess of Krakenthorp.

The format for this simulcast was the same as that of the recent Bohème. Renée Fleming was the hostess for the evening, interviewing the stars and providing peeks backstage. As to the sound, perhaps my ears have adjusted to the whole screening concept, but I found perspectives between voices and orchestra much more natural on this occasion. The Producer and Costume Designer was Laurent Pelly, who has made a delightful job of it. Making the Alps out of maps of Europe is a nice touch. Marco Armiliato was a sensitive conductor who persuaded his orchestral forces to ooze fizz (the only time we saw him at work was in the Overture, which he smiled his way through in a kind of Gene Wilder-ish way).

Next season Met telecasts include a Salome with Karita Mattila, a Sonnambula with Dessay and  Flórez and a Lucia with Netrebko and Villazon. Quite some prospects. Watch this space ...

Colin Clarke

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