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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
La Fille du Régiment - opéra-comique in two acts (1840)
Marie, an orphan adopted by the regiment – Natalie Dessay (soprano); Tonio, a young Tyrolean in love with Marie – Juan Diego Florez (tenor); Sulpice, a sergeant of the regiment – Alessandro Corbeli (buffa bass); La Marquise de Berkenfeld – Felicity Palmer (mezzo); Hortensius, major-domo of the Marquise – Donald Maxwell (bass); La Duchesse de Crakentrop – Dawn French (comedienne); Caporal – Bryan Secombe; Paysan – Luke Price; Notaire – Jean-Pierre Blanchard
Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Bruno Campanella
rec. live, 11 January 2007
Television Director: Robin Lough
NTSC all regions. Picture format: 16/9 Colour. Sound formats: LPCM Stereo/DTS 5.1/Dolby 5:1 Surround
Subtitles in English; French; German; Italian; Spanish
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5190029 [132:00]
Experience Classicsonline

La Fille du Régiment is a favourite opéra-comique that has remained in the repertoire of many established opera houses since its opening production on 11 February 1840 at the Opéra Comique, Paris. We have to compare this production with good benchmarks like the excellent Pavarotti/Sutherland recording and it stands up well.
Laurent Pelly’s production from France is cleverly witty and successfully projects the character of Marie into the limelight whenever she is on stage. Dessay has a stunning voice of excellent timbre and versatility, and a fine stage presence with hypnotic eyes that locks one into every action. Her industrious ironing and potato-peeling scenes, with asides to the audience, are handled with subtle timing and alert gestures. She wins the hearts of the audience with her vivacious movements and well choreographed, light-hearted stage business.
This Donizetti opera is famous for its catchy tenor aria, "Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête!", which features nine high Cs, and has been described as a "Mount Everest" for tenors. Luciano Pavarotti, whose reputation was based on his high Cs (until his death in 2007), was an unrivalled champion … until now. His place has been taken by Juan Diego Florez who first sang Tonio in this production at La Scala, where he dared to break its 74-year rule of ‘no encores’ with this aria. I believe Florez’s performance on this ROH DVD is superior to that of Pavarotti, in providing a much cleaner reach for the note.
Act II opens with a team of cleaners dusting with effectively funny choreography using ballet poses – all to the music of a minuet. To compensate for the men’s straight roles, a cameo part is now introduced in the form of Dawn French as the fearsome Duchesse de Crackentrop. Impatient after waiting for the appearance of a non-existent footman, and irritated by the repetition of bars of the Minuet, she loudly calls off-stage (in English) in typical French & Saunders tradition to summon her weak host. This appearance, although short - about nine minutes in total - makes its mark.
Marie is not alone in providing strong magnetism to the production: Felicity Palmer as La Marquise de Berkenfeld opens with a good presence in Act I, but it is in her performance as the singing teacher of Act II where she brings a focus for attention whilst attempting to teach Marie to sing. She provides a bonus by actually playing the piano on-stage with languid grace to Marie’s uninterested singing. Only once did I find the stage movements flawed. It seemed totally unnecessary and silly to have Marie drag across the stage a long washing line carrying soldiers’ “coms” (a visual device already previously used to better effect) whilst singing the serious and sombre largetto, “Il faut partir”.
Alessandro Corbeli as Sulpice, sergeant of the regiment gives a sturdy performance with his resonant bass and dynamic facial expressions and provides good interaction with Marie. I always enjoy the stage presence of the versatile Don Maxwell and here as Hortensius, chaperone of the Marquise, he does not disappoint. With his bustling and pampering of the Marquise he delivers good animation to keep the stage energy flowing. Both of these characters have the strength of voice needed for the ensembles.
Donizetti’s energetic score is taken at a bright and sensible pace by Bruno Campanella. The stirring ‘Rataplan’ chorus is particularly striking with its military presence. At times I wondered if something better could be done with chorus grouping, however.
The surrealist setting of an inclined map for Act I is somewhat ‘ham’. When will modern art directors learn that graphics translated to the stage rarely offer a genuine atmosphere: I felt the flying in of a giant postcard was an unnecessary distraction and didn’t add anything useful to the production. Much better was the drawing room setting of Act II, yet the distinction between image and reality was wrongly crossed where characters interact from outside the make-believe room inset.
Although sung in French this need not deter the non-Francophone since subtitles in English are available just as they were at Covent Garden when played. Subtitles in French, German, Italian and Spanish are also available. What is missing however is a good booklet of notes containing some of the opera’s interesting history and more importantly a synopsis, this being an extraordinary omission for a DVD published by an opera house.
Raymond J Walker

see also review by Robert J Farr



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