La fille du régiment, London, January 2007
Photo of Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez in rehearsal by Rob Moore

La Fille du Regiment, The Times, 12 January 2007
An opera made for stars, and these are outstanding, The Daily Mail, 12 January 2007
(Also published in the Evening Standard under the title: 'The fat lady steals it')
Donizetti is a delight, but pardon the French, The Financial Times, 12 January 2007
Madcap Soprano, Brave Tenor Enliven Donizetti Opera in London, Bloomberg News, 12 January 2007
La fille du regiment, The Stage, 12 January 2007
La Fille du Régiment, The Guardian, 13 January 2007
Un peruano escala con facilidad el "Everest" de la opera, Reuters España, 12 January 2007
Flórez y Dessay deslumbran en 'La Fille du Régiment', EFE, 12 January 2007
La Fille Du Regiment, Royal Opera House, London, The Independent, 15 January 2007
«La Fille du régiment» en parade à Londres, Le Figaro, 15 January 2007 [excerpt]
La Fille du Regiment
Richard Morrison, The Times, 12 January 2007

The nation's favourite female cleric may have retired. But the Vicar of Dibley is back, thinly disguised (well, thinly is perhaps not the right word) as the frightful Duchesse de Crackentorp in the Royal Opera's rip-roaring new production of Donizetti's blissfully daft military farce.

Not that Dawn French's devotees should get too excited. The luxuriously upholstered one is on stage for just ten minutes. And, perhaps mercifully, she doesn't sing  though she does hijack the performance, chiefly by bawling in English when everyone is speaking French (the surtitles wittily switch into French when she's talking).

But she's the icing on an exceedingly yummy operatic cake. Sitcom fans drawn to Covent Garden by the lure of La French may find themselves bewitched instead by the allure of les français  especially by Laurent Pelly who stages the show with Gallic exuberance, and the stunning Natalie Dessay as the "daughter of the regiment"  abandoned on the battlefield as a baby; brought up by kindhearted soldiers who turn her into their barracks' maid-of-all-work; then reunited with her true mother by the final curtain.

I have never seen a singer invest quite so much manic comic energy into a role as Dessay does, and certainly not while tossing out some of the most fiendish coloratura in the repertoire. Nor take on so many domestic chores in a performance. Playing the role as a hyperactive tomboy, she sings her first aria while doing the regiment's ironing, pausing only to ping her braces against her vested bosom, then delivers a duet while peeling spuds, and an aria while gathering in underwear from a washing line.

And she never misses a beat or a stratospheric trill. Simply mesmerising. Memories fade, but I can't recall Dame Joan Sutherland playing the part quite like that when Covent Garden last staged this opera.

All of which will give you a flavour of Pelly's production. He updates the story to the early 20th century, and plays the action against a satirical landscape of higgledy-piggledy maps, followed by an equally surreal oak drawing-room replete with everything except walls. He then proceeds to send up the comic-opera genre with a frantic stream of visual gags. There are dancing long-johns on Dessay's washing line; huge postcards to illustrate any double entendre; tons of "ironic" hammy gestures from the well-drilled chorus (at least, I hope they are ironic), and step-kick routines choreographed with Broadway slickness. Well, almost.

It's an unashamed romp. And when the fizz threatens to fizzle out, Pelly simply pulls off another flamboyant coup, such as the First World War tank that bursts into the finale.

But it's the quality of the star performances that makes this a must-see, must-hear show. Dessay certainly doesn't act everyone else off the stage. Not while Felicity Palmer's terrifying then touching Marquise de Berkenfeld is around, summoning up quaking vocal reserves from the baritone register, then displaying some deft digits on the ivories in the famous singing-lesson scene.

And nor does the soprano steal the vocal honours when the Peruvian tenor sensation Juan Diego Flórez is delivering the celebrated nine top Cs in his stupendous Act I aria  each hurled out with laser-like precision and power  or (even better) melting the stoniest hearts with his pianissimo declaration of love.

There are fine supporting performances from Alessandro Corbelli and Donald Maxwell. And a conductor, Bruno Campanella, who really knows how to deliver this frothy score with the requisite snap, crackle and pop. It's the operatic show of the season. 5/5 Stars.

The fat lady steals it
Fiona Maddocks, Evening Standard, 12 January 2007
(Also published in the Daily Mail under the title: 'An opera made for stars, and these are outstanding')

Footstamping and cheers at a volume rarely heard in Covent Garden greeted the brilliant international cast of Donizetti's La Fille Du Regiment, which opened at the Royal Opera House last night in its first new production of 2007.

The brief spectacle of Dawn French, gorgeously kitted out like a frosted fruit as La Duchesse and speaking Franglais, felt like excess gilding but she won laughs merely by walking on and raising an eyebrow.

Absent from the Royal Opera House since 1967, when it launched the career of Pavarotti, still thin and unknown, The Daughter of the Regiment is an opera made for stars.

It can't be done without them.

With its famous nine top Cs in one aria for the tenor, it needs technical virtuosity at peak level.

Think Russian gymnast meets Shane Warne.

The line-up for this new production, headed by the feted Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez and French soprano Natalie Dessay, is outstanding.

The conductor, Bruno Campanello, allowed the singers every freedom to shape the music, to impressive effect.

Dessay, making only her second appearance in London, sang the girl of the title, Marie, adopted as a baby by soldiers in the Napoleonic wars.

Past singers in this role include Dame Joan Sutherland and, in the 1840s, Jenny Lind, "the Swedish nightingale".

Dessay is a different creature altogether: gamine, huge eyed, febrile, like the sparrow Piaf, singing and moving with restless acrobatic energy. She had the audience captivated within - let's not exaggerate - 30 seconds.

Musically she was sensational. She was also funny.

It is her lover, Tonio, however, who provides the high-wire moments. Florez, who excels in this light, bel canto repertoire, is the only tenor capable of singing the role at this level today.

His stage presence, a mix of melancholy and ardour, is honest and sympathetic, but with that voice he could charm a stone.

As for those Cs, which punch out of the melodic line like sudden gunfire, Florez aimed them almost perfectly, with full open voice, while the audience held its breath.

As La Marquise, Felicity Palmer was impeccable, with Alessandro Corbelli a comic Sulpice.

Opening here before going to Vienna and the Metropolitan Opera, New York, this co-production by French director Laurent Pelly has been updated to the First World War, with the regiment in tin hats.

Every detail, including a washing line of choreographed longjohns and an inventive routine at the ironing board, is wittily thought through.

The stylised, Chaplin-esque gestures cleverly mirrored the artificiality of the ridiculous plot.

Only the dire women's chorus, unlike the men's, was out of step with the rest of the regiment, a minor quibble in an other wise bravura show.

Donizetti is a delight, but pardon the French
Andrew Clark, The Financial Times, 12 January 2007

Her first word was "Merci". Then came some moderately intelligible French patter, followed by a lot of huffing and puffing. That, for Dawn French, must have been the challenging bit. Thereafter, as the star of The Vicar of Dibley and other popular British TV shows strutted her stuff at Covent Garden for the first time, it became clear that the worlds of television comedy and operatic comedy don't really mix.

Someone at the Royal Opera House evidently thought Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment (The daughter of the regiment) needed "sexing up" if there was to be any chance of attracting the operatically unwashed sectors of the British public through its portals. And so French was engaged for the speaking role of the Duchess of Crackentorp. As a marketing stunt you can see the logic, and the ample-bodied comedian does her best to parler français but it might have been funnier if she had actually tried to sing. In the end, French looked out of place. La Fille du Régiment has enough comedy of its own and this show turns out to be one of the most entertaining in the Royal Opera's recent history.

In operatic lore La Fille du Régiment stands out as the work that calls on the tenor to sing nine high Cs in quick succession in "Ah! Mes amis", Tonio's showcase aria near the end of Act 1. Not surprisingly, few tenors are prepared to take on the challenge so this sentimental romantic comedy  written by an Italian composer in the French opéra comique tradition, with spoken dialogues  does not get performed as often as it should. It was last heard at Covent Garden 40 years ago in a now legendary production starring Joan Sutherland and the young Luciano Pavarotti, a pairing that went on to conquer the world.

Taste and style have since moved on: for all their glorious voices Sutherland and Pavarotti would have looked more than a little heavy-footed in this new show, which is tailor-made for Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez  another operatic coupling made in heaven. Musical honours are evenly divided  Flórez, smaller and softer of voice than Pavarotti, sails through his aria, hitting those stratospheric notes with a confident "ping"  but it is the soprano's evening, as the work's title implies.

Dessay's Marie wins not just Tonio's heart but ours too. She is a slip of a woman, pretty and petite, but it's her vocal verve that impresses most, as well as her ability to act as brilliantly as any mime artiste. In a potato-peeling scene in the middle of Act One she holds the stage alone  and without saying anything properly audible or intelligible, she has the Covent Garden audience, well, not exactly rolling in the aisles but very nearly. With the encouragement of French director Laurent Pelly, best known for his witty Offenbach productions, Dessay turns Marie into an endearingly Chaplinesque figure, part-tomboy, part-marionette. But the soprano  who uses her native tongue so winningly  is too much of a trouper to act the star.

There are scene-stealing character parts for Felicity Palmer, Alessandro Corbelli and Donald Maxwell, and the wonder of it all is that their French dialogue comes through with the same immediacy as if it were in English. Surtitles may help, as does some subtle updating of the spoken text, but credit really belongs to the brilliant Pelly, who respects not just the period charm of the piece but its romantic innocence. Chantal Thomas's set  a landscape of Napoleonic-era maps peppered with Tyrolean humps  includes a marching washing-line and a tank that turns Tonio's final entrance into a coup de théâtre. Musically the proceedings are impeccably drilled by Bruno Campanella.

In that context Dawn French's operatic debut must be judged a damp squib. For a few brief moments the humour seemed coarse. No matter: when French met Donizetti, operatic comedy won the day.

Madcap Soprano, Brave Tenor Enliven Donizetti Opera in London
Warwick Thompson, Bloomberg News, 12 January 2007

Donizetti's ``La Fille du Regiment'' has a poorly motivated plot, flimsy characterization and plenty of rum-ti-tum accompaniments. It also needs a tenor who can pump out nine top Cs at the drop of a hat, and a high soprano who doesn't mind taking the odd pratfall. No wonder it hasn't been heard at London's Royal Opera House in 40 years.

Laurent Pelly's hilarious new production has been worth the wait. The cast, conductor and director have looked beneath the surface of this sly 1840 comedy and released the operatic gold buried beneath. The resulting dazzle blinds you to any weaknesses.

For a start, ``La Fille'' is a real star vehicle for a singer with comic gifts, and in diminutive soprano Natalie Dessay it gets one of the most theatrically uninhibited performers of the moment. She plays Marie, a rough tomboy who has been brought up by soldiers as their mess-girl and who is revealed as a lost heiress at the end of Act 1.

Dessay, dressed in blue braces and a T-shirt, flings herself into her regimental duties with cheerful madcap energy. Her legs may buckle as she comically struggles to carry a mountain of military laundry, yet she always shows herself determined to prove herself the equal of her soldier companions.

Shrieking Soprano

The complications arise, of course, when she has to put on layers of petticoats and refashion herself as a society belle. She brings the same spirit of gameness and desperate good will to the task, but the strain shows. She gets so frustrated during her dull singing lesson, for example, that her coloratura simply spins out of control into a hysterical shriek and she falls flat.

Dessay lathes her bel canto phrases lovingly and her top notes are rock solid, though her tone has a sandy, slightly unfocused quality in certain places. It doesn't really matter in the jolly pitter-patter numbers, but in her tearful Act 1 farewell ``Il faut partir'' the effect isn't as ravishing as it could be.

The brave tenor given the Olympic task of hurling out the famous top Cs is Juan Diego Florez, and when he does you know that you're in the presence of one of the greatest tenori di grazia (``graceful tenors'') of our time. He hits each of Tonio's treacherous notes with an unerring ping, and with no hint of strain. He doesn't slide up to them but attacks them staccato, just as the score demands.

Florez's performance is more than a crowd-pleasing stunt, however. He also brings exquisite elegance to his Act 2 plea for Marie's hand, ``Pour me rapprocher,'' and his acting is perfectly pitched to be a gentle foil to Dessay's harum-scarum Marie.

Soldiers, Ball Gowns

Laurent Pelly turns the silliness of the plot to his advantage, and sets the story in a surreal anachronistic jumble of World War I soldiers, 1950s ball gowns and contemporary gadgets. Act 1 takes place on a mountain pass created out of old military maps (sets by Chantal Thomas), and Act 2 is in a strangely skewed version of a grand ancestral hall. If the plot has anything to say about the role of women in society -- how they constrain and clip themselves to conform to others' needs -- Pelly politely glosses over it in favor of a more screwball approach.

He generally has a good handle on the pacing that the show needs, although in Act 1 some of Laura Scozzi's choreography is lackluster. Pelly also puts some gags into the staging of ``Il faut partir,'' a moment that should be more honestly touching if Marie is to have credibility.

It all picks up again in Act 2. Dawn French appears like a whirlwind of monstrous hauteur in the non-singing role of La Duchesse de Crackentorp, whose son is supposed to marry Marie instead of Tonio, and from that moment on the general hilarity reaches ever higher peaks of silliness.

A Fine Devil

Bruno Campanella conducts the score without a hint of rum-ti- tumminess, and proves that while Donizetti's orchestration may be simple, it's anything but unsophisticated. The devil is in the detail, in crisp little woodwind turns, in perfectly executed speed changes, in beautifully articulated accompanying figures, and Campanella's devil seems to be a fine fellow indeed.

Agathe Melinand's rewritten and updated script provides crisp French dialogue, and neatly solves a few problems in the plot. With excellent support from Felicity Palmer as Marie's long-lost relative La Marquise de Berkenfeld, and Alessandro Corbelli as the sergeant of Marie's regiment, it all adds up to an evening of sheer joy.

I just hope we don't have to wait 40 years for the next one. 

La fille du regiment
George Hall, The Stage, 12 January 2007

It's been 40 years since Covent Garden presented Donizetti's light-hearted military comedy. Last time round it starred Joan Sutherland in the title role, with Luciano Pavarotti knocking out top C after top C to her side. This time it's an equivalently starry pairing, with the leading coloratura of the day, French soprano Natalie Dessay, enjoying her tomboy role as Marie, a young woman brought up by an entire regiment of soldiers, and Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez effortlessly graceful and equally virtuosic as her adored Tonio.

The bigger picture is secure in Laurent Pelly's production, though Chantal Thomas' sets are not the most inspiring and the comedy arguably too broad, with an excess of mugging. Bruno Campanella's conducting too has some wayward moments, with some unconvincing changes of pace and insufficient precision. But as a whole the evening has enough feelgood factor about it to win through.

Adding to its quality are Felicity Palmer's strong-minded but neurotic Marquise de Berkenfield, ably abetted by Donald Maxwell's daffy Hortensius and Alessandro Corbelli's sympathetic Sergeant Sulpice. Dawn French makes her operatic debut in the non-singing role of the hyper-snobbish Duchess of Crackentorp, and fully justifies the beefing-up of the part with a finely tuned performance that ups the comic ante.

But overall it's the outstanding singing of the two stars, who supply moments of languid pathos amid their flamboyant vocalism, which makes this a memorable evening.

La Fille du Régiment
Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 13 January 2007

The Royal Opera's new staging of La Fille du Régiment will probably go down in history as one of the company's great achievements. Few would rate Donizetti's Francophile comedy of army life and aristocratic bad manners as one of the greatest of operas. Yet it also has the reputation of being a tremendous vehicle for a star soprano and tenor. Laurent Pelly's production casts Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez as Marie and Tonio. Neither, one suspects, could ever be bettered.

Dessay, in particular, gives the performance of a lifetime. A remarkable theatrical animal, she acts as well as she sings. We first encounter her as a gamine tomboy in breeches and braces, letting fly volleys of coloratura, while she irons the regiment's shirts. Her wide-eyed attraction to Florez is touching and sincere. She and Pelly, however, get the work's momentary plunges into darkness exactly right; forced from the army into the posh world of the Marquise de Berkenfeld, her outbursts of resentment and hysteria are as painful as they are funny. Florez isn't quite her theatrical equal, though Pelly has carefully crafted his more conventional gestures into a portrait of considerable cogency. Vocally, he's immaculate, with the nine top Cs of his big aria perfectly placed.

You can't fault the rest of it, either. Bruno Campanella's conducting has great elegance and charm. Felicity Palmer's Marquise de Berkenfeld is the operatic equivalent of Edith Evans's Lady Bracknell, while the all-important speaking role of the battleaxe Duchesse de Crackentorp goes to Dawn French, who, generously and wisely, refuses to hog the limelight.

A truly outstanding night at Covent Garden, the like of which we haven't seen in ages. 5/5 Stars

Un peruano escala con facilidad el "Everest" de la opera
Mike Collett-White, Reuters España, 12 January 2007

LONDRES - La ópera de Donizetti "La Fille du Regiment" no se presenta a menudo por la dificultad que significa interpretar sus papeles principales.

Pero por primera vez en 40 años está en el Covent Garden londinense y el jueves, en la noche de estreno, la estrella peruana Juan Diego Flórez alcanzó las nueves notas de Do mayor del apodado "Monte Everest" de la opera, que pocos cantantes han podido interpretar.

Este fue el papel que ayudó a lanzar la carrera de Luciano Pavarotti, uno de los más grandes tenores de todos los tiempos, quien fue el último en interpretarlo en la Royal Opera House junto a Joan Sutherland.

Esta pareja es considerada una de las mejores de la historia y ahora los críticos creen haber encontrado otra, formada por Flórez y a la soprano francesa Natalie Dessay, quien interpretó a Marie por primera vez el jueves por la noches.

Flórez, considerado "la más grande estrella vocal de opera" por el crítico Rupert Christiansen, restó dramatismo a la hazaña, diciendo que en Japón e Italia tuvo que cantar la compleja aria dos veces cuando la audiencia exigió una repetición.

"Lo he hecho varias veces en el pasado y ahora me siento cómodo haciéndolo", dijo el cantante de 33 años a Reuters entre bastidores después de ser aclamado por la audiencia.

"Mi repertorio son óperas difíciles. Me especializo en material difícil, es algo que hago frecuentemente. Este es uno de los papeles más difíciles, pero si tienes las notas entonces puedes hacerlo".

La nueva producción también viajará a Viena y al Metropolitan Opera en Nueva York.


Dessay, de 41 años, cree que ha encontrado un acompañante inusual en Flórez y la pareja se reunirá de nuevo para interpretar la misma producción en Viena, Nueva York y París en 2012.

"Para este repertorio lo quiero a él y a nadie más", dijo la cantante, cuya carrera se vio amenazada hace algunos años cuando debió someterse a operación de cuerdas vocales.

"A eso yo le llamo ópera - cuando esta bien cantada y bien actuada", agregó Dessay.

Las primeras reacciones de los críticos fueron positivas, con Richard Morrison del Times dando a "La Fille" cinco estrellas de cinco.

"Es la opera de la temporada", escribió Morrison.

Morrison describió a Dessay como "simplemente hipnotizante" y dijo que Flórez entregaba su notas de Do mayor "con poder y la precisión de un laser".

Flórez y Dessay deslumbran en producción londinense de 'La Fille du Régiment'
Joaquín Rábago, EFE, 12 January 2007

El peruano Juan Diego Flórez y la francesa Natalie Dessay deslumbraron la pasada noche a la audiencia del Convent Garden londinense en lo que la crítica considera una nueva, briosa y, a juzgar por las reacciones del público, profundamente divertida producción de 'La Fille du Régiment', de Gaetano Donizetti.

Brillaron las voces de ambos intérpretes, y Flórez arrancó una de las mayores ovaciones que se recuerdan en la Royal Opera House tras interpretar la famosa aria de los nueve dos de pecho- Ah, mes amis-

con la que saltó a la fama en su día Luciano Pavarotti.

No menos impresionante, estuvo el tenor peruano en el aria 'Pour me rapprocher de Marie', del segundo acto, de gran belleza melódica, y que cantó con sentimiento y una tersura vocal que han hecho que los críticos le comparen con el fallecido Alfredo Kraus.

La francesa Dessay, en el papel de Marie, la muchacha adoptada por un regimiento francés, que se enamora del joven tirolés Tonio (Flórez), se reveló a su vez como un torbellino de energía y una actriz de una comicidad fuera de lo común.

Por su físico, su mímica, su frescura y espontaneidad, Dessay parece estar hecha para ese personaje de muchacha traviesa con la que se encariñó inmediatamente el público, que premió sus arias o duetos con entusiásticos aplausos.

Los elogios fueron extensibles al resto de los intérpretes: Felicity Palmer, excelente también en el papel de marquesa de Berkenfeld, Alessandro Corbelli, como el sargento Suplice Pingot, Donald Maxwell en el papel del mayordomo Hortensius, ambos divertidísimos, así como al director musical, Bruno Campanella.

La puesta en escena del francés Laurent Pelly, asistido por la responsable de los decorados, Chantal Thomas y la coreógrafa Laura Scozzi, es una de las más exuberantes e imaginativas que han visto en los últimos años en Covent Garden, según comentaban en el entreacto los críticos más veteranos.

Pelly sitúa la acción a comienzos del siglo XX en un paisaje de mapas que simulan paisajes alpinos al que sucede en el segundo acto un gran salón todo él de madera con sus puertas, sus marcos de cuadros y su chimenea, pero en el que faltan las paredes.

Los 'gags' visuales son continuos y rebosantes de ironía, y la escena en casa de la duquesa de Crackentorp, con los viejos aristócratas haciendo movimientos mecánicos como autómatas con peluca provocó auténticas carcajadas.

Cuando al final de la obra, Flórez aparece subido a un tanque y rodeado del coro -los soldados del regimiento- dispuesto a rescatar a su amada, a la que quieren casar con el hijo de la duquesa, el público tampoco pudo resistir.

Al final de la representación, Flórez explicó a EFE que se sentía 'muy cómodo' con ese papel, que es ciertamente uno de los más difíciles desde el punto de vista técnico, pero agregó: 'Yo me he especializado en papeles difíciles', según explicó.

Aunque el rol de Tonio es menos divertido que el de Marie, la protagonista, 'la música que me toca cantar es increíble, especialmente el segundo aria' mientras que el primero, el de los nueve dos, 'es como el champán', señaló el tenor peruano.

Por su parte, Dessay, que debutaba como Marie, explicó que si no había cantado antes era porque sentía que no le había llegado aún el momento desde el punto de vista vocal.

'Ahora estoy en la mejor forma, explicó la soprano, quien reconoció que técnicamente su papel no es el más difícil: 'Es mucho más difícil Lucia di Lammermoor (Donizetti) o Bellini.

Dessay se mostró encantada con su colaboración con Flórez. 'Yo quiero hacer 'La Fille du régiment' en adelante solo con él. Lo haremos juntos en Viena, Nueva York y París', afirmó la soprano, quien agregó que harán también juntos 'La Sonnambula' y le gustaría que ambos colaborasen en 'I Puritani' (ambas de Bellini).

La Fille Du Regiment, Royal Opera House, London 
Edward Seckerson, The Independent, 15 January 2007

Things have come on a little in the 40 years since Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti strutted their ample stuff in the last Royal Opera staging of Donizetti's Frenchified charmer.

In another 40 years someone will be talking about the night their successors - Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez - showed everyone how the piece should really be done. It's hard to imagine how this adorable, pint-sized, pairing could ever be bettered. But the same goes for the entire cast - as good as you could now muster from anywhere on the planet.

Drop them all into a production from Laurent Pelly that needs no special pleading on comedic grounds, and is by turns elegant, witty, and laugh-out-loud funny, and you've one of the happiest nights the Royal Opera has fielded since I don't know when.

A gentle yodel from a solo horn sets the Alpine scene. The designer, Chantal Thomas, has a map of the Tyrol quite literally strewn across the stage, crumpled sections of it marking out mountainous peaks. The French are on the offensive (in every sense) and the makeshift barricades on view are elaborate enough to send Trevor Nunn back to the drawing board with Les Misérables.

Enter the "daughter of the regiment", Marie - the sensational Natalie Dessay - who is a cross between Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane, only French. She's one of the lads, foul-mouthed and butch enough to tote a rifle but feminine enough to be ironing their undershirts or peeling their potatoes - and all the while tossing off Donizetti's wicked coloratura like it, too, is all in a day's work.

The real joy of Dessay's performance (and it's one of the best all-round operatic performances I've ever seen) is that the singing is always a true extension of the characterisation. The pyrotechnics are timed with such perfection, like verbal exclamations, that there isn't a note, a roulade, a top E-flat, that doesn't get a laugh. Being French she can play with the dialogue, too, and when she is reflective she is vulnerable and touching. Her excellent voice blooms pleasingly in repose, and her tender farewell at the close of act one could not be lovelier.

The local boy Tonio - Juan Diego Florez in lederhosen - is from the wrong side of the barricades. Of course, everyone is waiting for the succession of high Cs in his first-act clincher, and Florez pops them like shrugs of his elegant shoulders, bringing the house down in the process. The naturally high tessitura of his voice makes it all sound utterly effortless. We know better. But what makes Florez special, the tenore di grazia of his generation, are not the high notes, but the exquisitely fluid line, the way in which he is always seeking out and finessing the next elegant turn in the phrasing. When he pleads for Marie at the close of the show, it is the artistry and the grace of it that stops you in your tracks.

And that's the perfect outcome for a romance which begins with Marie offering Tonio a flower. As she does so a sepia postcard descends from above inscribed "Baromètre de l'Amour". It is just one witty aside in a production which abounds in them.

Laurent Pelly blocks the evening to perfection, making something hugely vibrant of his excellent male chorus and even creating (with the choreographer, Laura Scozzi) a tiny, chuckle-making, ballet for the parlour maids.

As I say, none of this would be possible without a truly stellar cast. Two marvellous character actor/singers - Alessandro Corbelli and our own Felicity Palmer - ensure that the comedy is well-anchored. And there's a third to give Palmer's indomitable Marquise de Berkenfeld a run for her money. Dawn French (as La Duchesse de Crackentorp) ditches the Dibley vicar's cassock for an appropriately mountainous frock and, in a ludicrous mix of bad French and colloquial English, gets her priorities right: "Sweetheart, don't be stingy with the chocolate fountains." 5/5 Stars

«La Fille du régiment» en parade à Londres [excerpt]
Jean-Loius Validire, Le Figaro, 15 January 2007

[...] Monter La Fille du régiment à Londres pour le 60e anniversaire de l'opéra et surtout quarante ans après la production mythique qui associait Joan Sutherland à Lucio Pavarotti, sous la direction de Richard Bonynge, était un défi. Vocalement, le risque était limité. Juan Diego Flores [sic] est aujourd'hui le « titulaire », pourrait-on dire en utilisant un langage sportif du rôle. Un timbre éclatant, une projection parfaite, une aisance funambulesque pour atteindre les contre-ut ont à juste titre provoqué l'enthousiasme des spectateurs. En plus le ténor péruvien a un physique de gendre idéal qui rend parfaitement crédible l'amour que lui porte Marie, la fille du régiment. C'est Natalie Dessay qui faisait ses débuts dans le rôle à Covent Garden. Elle a été, à son habitude, totalement convaincante vocalement dans les airs de bravoure, les duos et les trios mais également époustouflante d'abattage scénique. C'est aussi une grande comédienne pathétique dans Lucia encore récemment à Paris, truculente dans La Fille du régiment à Londres. [...]

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