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Donizetti , La fille du regiment: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Bruno Campanella. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 17.5. 2010 (CC)


Marie - Natalie Dessay

Tonio - Juan Diego Flórez

La Marquise de Berkenfeld - Ann Murray

Sulpice - Alessandro Corbelli

Hortensius - Donald Maxwell

Corporal - Jonathan Fisher

Peasant - Luke Price

Notary - Jean-Pierre Blanchard

La Duchesse de Crackentorp - Dawn French


Director - Laurent Pelly

Revival Director - Elaine Kidd

Set Designs - Chantal Thomas

Lighting Design - Joël Adam


Caption: Juan Diego Flórez (Tonio) and Natalie Dessay (Marie)


This staging of Donizetti’s Fille du régiment has rapidly become a modern classic. Robert J. Farr gave a perceptive review of the excellent DVD from the 2007 performances; I reviewed a Met telecast from 2008. Robert Farr’s review gives valuable background. This first revival of Laurent Pelly’s production sees Ann Murray replace Felicity Palmer as La Marquise de Berkenfeld. A clear case of interchangeable singers of equal experience and excellence, as it turns out – Murray is as equally brilliant as her distinguished predecessor.


Natalie Dessay, the “daughter” of the 21st Regiment, remains a ball of energy. This is surely one of the most physically involving of parts she has ever taken on. Right from the off, she has to iron clothes vigorously while negotiating Donizetti’s tricky writing, something she did with aplomb (although, perhaps, not with quite the spirit of danger that seemed to be present in the New York performance). Dessay’s singing is remarkable in its accuracy and the way she marries the vocal lines to the dramatic situations. The rendition of the regimental song (“Il est là, morbleu, le beau Vingt-et-unième”), was pure delight. As was the scene in the second act when a “song by an Italian composer”, “Le jour naissait dans le bocage”, transforms itself beautifully into “Rataplan, c’est le réfrain du régiment”.


It is important to note that the role of Marie is not all fireworks. There are moments of real pathos, and here Dessay seemed at the top of her form. The Act 1 “Il faut partir”, was particularly beautiful, as was the supremely tender, “Par le rang et l’opulence” from the second act. Although Dessay’s voice is not huge, she projects it and uses it is such a way that one forgets and instead enters into the feeling of the moment. Her way with phrasing can melt the heart.


This was one evening when Flórez nearly stole the show. His light voice and vocal agility makes him ideal for the role of Tonio. His ability to hit the high C’s, too, qualifies him as an ideal. And how on form he was on this opening evening of the current run. The audience sat in complete silence as he fired out one top C after another, finally erupting in a storm of show-stopping applause. Flórez could only stand there, frozen. His identification with Tonio seemed more complete now than in either the ROH DVD account, or the Met telecast.


Ann Murray’s sense of humour shone from every syllable of her assumption of La Marquise de Berkenfeld, and in Donald Maxwell’s Hortensius she found the perfect partner.


The staging is full of magnificent comedic touches – not least of which is the entrance of the regimental smalls on laundry lines near the climax of the Act 1 “Rataplan” duet between Marie and Sulpice. The choreography of the “maids” at the opening of the second act (set against some wonderfully delicate playing from the orchestra) is hilarious. Act One is set against huge maps folded to replicate the Tyrolean mountains wherein the first act is set.


The Sulpice is a very rotund Alessandro Corbelli, a familiar face to ROH audiences, seen most recently in this reviewer’s ken as Don Geronio in a thoroughly enjoyable Rossini Turco in Italia. His stage presence, his huge experience and his magnificent voice make for a formidable combination.


Dawn French is, of course, a comedic genius, her talents on full display as La Duchesse de Crackentorp. As amply bosomed as any caricature Brünnhilde, she cuts an imposing figure. Her timing is impeccable. Her French, too, was excellent – and it was a nice touch when she occasionally talked in English, causing the surtitles to slip into French.


Bruno Campanella conducts beautifully. The opening of the Overture was exquisitely crafted. Fortes sounded a touch raucous, perhaps (from the Balcony). There were a few moments of bad ensemble during the evening, to be sure, but the general impression was one of complete immersion in the Donizettian universe. The Chorus was on top form, notable most, perhaps, for the Ladies’ prayer to the Virgin Mary (“Sainte Madonne”) in the first act.


An evening like no other, this remains a production of the highest quality entertainment.


Colin Clarke

Picture © Bill Cooper

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