Donizetti - La Fille du Régiment

ONP Bastille, Saturday October 27 2012

Conductor: Marco Armiliato. Production and costumes: Laurent Pelly. Sets: Chantal Thomas. Lighting: Joël Adam. Choreography: Laura Scozzi. Marie: Natalie Dessay. La Marquise de Berkenfield: Doris Lamprecht. La Duchesse de Crakentorp: Dame Felicity Lott. Tonio: Juan Diego Florez. Sulpice: Alessandro Corbelli. Hortensius: Francis Dudziak. Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

Florez was fabulous.

This well-travelled production is so familiar, I thought I might get away with writing nothing else about last night's performance. After London, Vienna, Milan, Barcelona and New York, here it all is in Paris, as seen on TV, DVD and YouTube. The barricades of beds, old furniture and grandfather clocks on handcarts, the chorus armed with pots and pans, pitchforks and carpet-beaters. The Tyrolean landscape of old maps, criss-crossed with "Siegfried lines" of long johns, and in the second part, the Marchioness's parlour plonked there, its panelling, fireplace and picture frames, dusted in slow motion by weird housemaids in drag, open to the winds. Marie with her ironing board and tubs of spuds, her doll-like dress and boots, singing lessons and tantrums. Tonio gauche in Lederhosen, woolly socks and a fairisle jumper, Tonio in uniform, Tonio on his tank, come to marry Marie. The Marchioness in fox furs, Sulpice red-cheeked and padded out like Falstaff, the Duchess in lavender and Mister Whippy hair, the creaking wedding guests, old postcards and cock's crow at the end... All here.

When I booked the tickets, months back, after last season's Manon and subsequent cancellations, it seemed unlikely Natalie Dessay would actually show up, but here she was, too, and on surprisingly good form, making the very best of her current means - which means that, now, it isn't abbattage and unscored E flats tossed in for free that impress, though she can still nail the scored top notes while held up in the air, horizontal, by a bunch of soldiers; it's her sincerity and floated pianissimi in the "sad bits", it's "Il faut partir", not "Salut à la France", that brings the house down.

Her boundless energy and genius for comic acting are equalled by Florez' boundless, still-boyish charm. And vocally, he is now, undoubtedly, the star. I can tell you, being on the fourth row of the stalls for his "Ah mes amis" is a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. (The Bastille pit is such a gaping chasm that even the first row is a reasonable distance from the stage. What people actually see and hear from the rear of the second balcony I really don't know). So loud and heavy were the rhythmic clapping and thunderous foot-stamping after his nine top Cs that he was forced out of character to take a modest bow; and so long did the peals of thunder roll on that, last night, he made a gesture to the conductor and gave us nine more. In the second part, his "Pour me rapprocher de Marie" reminded us that, while bad Donizetti is second only to bad Bellini, Donizetti with an outstanding singer, while rare, is among the best you can get - and, the monster, he started his second verse pianississimo, bringing the whole house to breathless, magical silence.

There's nothing much to add about the rest of the cast, except that Felicity Lott looked like a real Duchess - which can hardly be said for Dawn French on the DVD. She (Felicity Lott) was a scream.

From the opening bars, with their delicate woodwinds, on, it was clear that by giving the score the same respect as, say, Mendelssohn, Marco Armiliato would bring it nearly to Mendelssohn's level. More Donizetti with a bored pit band and second-rate singers I can live without; more Donizetti like yesterday evening's would be more than welcome.


  1. Insightful review, totally agree with all it says. We were there 24th: sadly no encore then, but similarly rapturous applause. From front of balcony the cast looked like ants, but we oould hear every word they sang. English subtitles would be a bonus - especially for the spoken dialogue, but their lack made a good excuse to watch the dvd again the minute we were home!

  2. Thank you. I noticed FB but was unable to send you a message.

  3. I never knew much abot Donizetti before, and that's a pity as he's a great composer,best known for his operatic works, but he also wrote music in a number of other forms, including some church music, a number of string quartets, and some orchestral works. I usually listen to more famous composers like Beethoven, but it's great to lern something new and find such a great music for myself. Thanks!


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