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
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
Donizetti’s energetic score is taken at a bright and sensible
pace by Bruno Campanella. The stirring ‘Rataplan’
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
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