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La Fille du régiment, New York Metropolitan Opera, April - May 2008
Juan Diego Flórez  as Tonio in La Fille du régiment
New York Metropolitan Opera, April 2008

          Florez wows crowd at Met with 18 high Cs, Associated Press, 22 April 2008
          Counting Juan Diego Flórez's High C's, New York Times, 23 April 2008
          Lederhosen and Laughs as Met Tenor Struts His High C, Bloomberg News, 22 April 2008
          La fille du régiment, Metropolitan Opera, New York, Financial Times, April 23 2008
          The Place to Be if You Like Hearing High C's, The Wall Street Journal, 1 May 2008
          Peruano logra ovación de pie en Opera de NY, El Paso Times,  23 April 2008
          Tenor Sails Through High C's in a Histrionic 'Regiment', Washington Post, 24 April 2008
Florez wows crowd at Met with 18 high Cs
Mike Silverman, Associated Press, 22 April 2008

Rewarding a rare encore with an even rarer standing ovation in midperformance, a rapturous Metropolitan Opera audience hailed the company's beguiling new production of Donizetti's comic gem, "La Fille du Regiment" ("The Daughter of the Regiment").

It was Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez as the lovesick Tonio who brought the crowd to its feet late in Act 1 on Monday night by sailing with ease through the nine high Cs in the aria, "Pour mon ame"  and then singing it a second time.

But at the end of the evening the cheers rang out equally for him and his co-star, French soprano Natalie Dessay, who sang the role of Marie, the tomboy title character, with sparkling coloratura and the timing of a gifted clown.

There was much else to cheer about in the production directed by Laurent Pelly, which milks the slapstick humor in the frothy plot while allowing the genuine sentiment to shine through. The production, which updates the action from Napoleonic times to World War I, was a sensation when it premiered last season at London's Covent Garden and later when it played Vienna. It's already a hit here as well  all eight performances are sold out.

Florez, whose agility and elegance in the lighter bel canto repertory is unsurpassed among today's singers, was rock-solid as he punched out those high Cs (Donizetti actually wrote only eight, but tenors can't resist adding one more). When he finished with the encore, he looked as if he could easily have done it a third time. Yet for sheer beauty of tone, he surpassed himself in his Act 2 aria, "Pour me rapprocher de Marie," when he sings of his love for Marie and his sadness at the prospect of losing her.

Dessay was a marvel as she cavorted with the soldiers in the regiment, scampering around the set and even tossing off an aria while ironing their clothes. In Act 2, whisked away to a life of luxury and forced to abandon her trousers and suspenders, she looked unhappily demure in a pale blue dress. And she gave hilarious expression to her exasperation in the lesson scene, resisting attempts to teach her a fashionable aria by repeatedly reverting to a military song.

Together the stars displayed a charming chemistry that made the inevitable happy ending all the more satisfying.

They were ably supported by baritone Alessandro Corbelli as the sympathetic Sergeant Sulpice; mezzo Felicity Palmer as the Marquise of Berkenfield, and actress Marian Seldes in the speaking role of the snobbish Duchess of Krakenthorp.

Marco Armiliato led the orchestra in a buoyant performance of the tuneful score.

Flores' encore was apparently the first for a solo performer at the Met since Luciano Pavarotti repeated the aria "E lucevan le stelle" in Act 3 of Puccini's "Tosca" in 1994. And it's practically unheard of for the audience to rise to its feet in the middle of a performance.

"La Fille," first performed in Paris in 1840, has had a checkered history at the Met in recent years. In 1972, a new production starring soprano Joan Sutherland turned the young Pavarotti into a superstar when he astounded the audience with the visceral impact of his nine high Cs. But when he tried to reprise the role in 1995, he had to transpose the aria down a half-tone and even then had trouble hitting the notes.

It's also the opera that led former Met general manager Joe Volpe to fire soprano Kathleen Battle for bad behavior during rehearsals in 1994.

What a season Dessay has had at the Met! She sang on opening night in "Lucia di Lammermoor," a Donizetti opera as lugubrious as "La Fille" is joyous. And she proved every bit as riveting a performer in tragedy as she is in comedy.

She and Florez will be back next year in an eagerly awaited new production of another bel canto work, Bellini's "La Sonnambula."

Counting Juan Diego Flórez's High C's in 'La Fille du Régiment' at the Met
Bernard Holland, New York Times, 23 April 2008

Comedy works best, one theory goes, when the people in it don't know they are being funny. Another school favors a more Marxian (Groucho, not Karl) approach, in which the reasonable turns into the improbable, and the improbable into the outrageous. The Metropolitan Opera's visually drab but industriously comic new production of Donizetti's "Fille du Régiment" represents theory No. 1 with touches of theory No. 2.

Laurent Pelly's production updates Napoleonic warfare in the Tyrol to the time of World War I. Pains have been taken to excise every bit of fluff and gold braid, anything that might remind us of the toy-soldier productions traditional to this ever-endearing piece. Maybe the idea is to clear away anything that obstructs the view of the Met's marvelous principals.

As a full house at the Met awaited the sporting event of the evening, Juan Diego Flórez as Tonio, the aspiring lover from the mountains, delivered his famous string of high C's in Act I and then, repeating the whole thing, nailed them again. The crowd, as they say, went wild. Less theatrical but perhaps more difficult were the restrained, drawn-out held notes he managed so well later in the evening.

Mr. Flórez is opera's latest, best response to a category of tenor voice that predominated in 1840 but no longer exists. Donizetti's tenor parts  requiring a different physical technique, lighter than the sound we are used to and benefiting from what were often drastically smaller opera houses  were also tuned lower. In other words, his B flat and our B flat are not the same.

Mr. Flórez offers a splendid metaphor for something that cannot be historically reproduced. His tone is slender but athletic. It has a ring and a resonance easily heard in a space the size of which Donizetti certainly did not plan on. Mr. Flórez is fluent in the ways of rapid-fire bel canto delivery, and he delivers simpler tunes winningly.

Natalie Dessay as Marie, the heroine of the title, asked us to consider a third theory of comedy: that people are funny when they behave like machines. Ms. Dessay will not be accused of stand-and-deliver opera. At one moment she is a flailing robot, with gauges set imprudently high and threatening meltdown. Yet (and this is crucial to her success) she fades instantly and easily from machine into something human: an extraordinarily busy kind of humanity, operating at jacked-up, silent-movie tempos.

Not only does Ms. Dessay sing beautifully, but she also gives us something to look at every moment, acting out coloratura passages in detail with shakes of the head, well-aimed pratfalls and an arsenal of tomboy gaucheries. Forget the rosy-cheeked dignity of a Joan Sutherland. Ms. Dessay puts on quite a show.

In this production the curtain rises to refugees trundling their belongings along a road, fearing the French soldiers not far behind. I don't know why Mr. Pelly wants us to feel depressed; the "war is hell" theme is pretty much canceled out by the silliness of these particular warriors. In Act I Marie does laundry, peels potatoes and looks terrible. She is intermittently accompanied by clotheslines stretched across the stage from which long johns dance nearly in time to the music.

Act II's Berkenfield Castle gives us gloomy, wood-paneled interiors. The evening's biggest splash of color may be at the final curtain, when a nicely tinted rooster picture in the form of a giant postcard descends from the flies and sends the audience home with its cock-a-doodle-doo. Travel maps are a recurring visual theme.

"La Fille du Régiment" is delightful music arranged in a traditional (read clichéd) set of symmetries. There are the true-hearted lower classes and scheming, matrimony-minded aristocrats; there are identities lost and found; and, as fillers, soldiers who like to take a drink. Think of a house built on pure geometry, but with inhabitants as non-Euclidean as you can get. Felicity Palmer as the Marquise and Alessandro Corbelli as Sulpice are splendid. Donald Maxwell is the booming, portentous Hortensius. Marian Seldes has a brief speaking part.

Marco Armiliato was the conductor, filling the evening with energetic, elegant good cheer and moving the music with a light step. Chantal Thomas designed the scenery. With its present cast, this production will go far. Its test will come when and if Mr. Flórez and Ms. Dessay aren't there anymore.

Lederhosen and Laughs as Met Tenor Struts His High C
Manuela Hoelterhoff, Bloomberg News, 22 April 2008

Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez stepped into the boots of giants last night at New York's Metropolitan Opera, and made history of their own as they romped through Donizetti's sweetly brain-dead farce, ``La Fille du Regiment.''

As the curtain rises, frightened Tyroleans are cowering behind piles of furniture awaiting the French army with pitchforks, helmets fashioned from cooking pots and, for good measure, a portable statue of the Virgin. Moaning in their midst is the imperious Marquise of Berkenfield who demands safe passage to her chateau.

All are relieved to find the French have no desire at all to fight. They are too busy doing their laundry and singing songs.

Enter Dessay, a petite French soprano with a dazzling high range, as Marie, a spirited orphan adopted by the 21st regiment and its doting sergeant, Sulpice. A local boy, Tonio, has caught her eye, and when he arrives in a magnificent pair of lederhosen, we share her delight.

How many tenors are there in the world who can wear this garment and look silly and sexy at the same time?

How many tenors can sing high Cs, lots of them, and not look like they will leave the premises by ambulance?

High C

Marie has nice tunes, but it's Tonio who delivers the opera's vocal thriller, ``Ah! Mes Amis,'' as he joins his new friends in the regiment just to be close to his girl. By the end of it, Florez had popped nine perfect high Cs with the jaunty ease of someone pricking balloons.

The audience wouldn't stop applauding. Finally, he bowed, even though breaking character, even a dopey character, is generally verboten at the Met.

That wasn't the end of it. Hearing more cheers, the Peruvian tenor repeated a stanza with another few high Cs, provoking joyous pandemonium and a standing ovation.

The last time anyone repeated an aria on the Met stage was more than a decade ago when Luciano Pavarotti twice addressed the heavens in ``Tosca.''

More often, we are happy some athletic vocal stunt has passed without serious injury and we can all relax and go home soon. While Florez's feat had to be planned -- the orchestra and its agile maestro, Marco Armiliato, puttered along without losing a beat -- it came off as improvised fun.

Long Ago

Baby boomers may remember the fabled Met ``Fille'' with two large people, the young Pavarotti and the mature Joan Sutherland, cavorting around the stage in 1972. The sheer size and volume of these divinities made their little jokes and songs all the more endearing.

Florez and Dessay are perfect stars for a visual age, about half their size in sound and body. Sutherland used to knit for exercise. Dessay looks like she could sprint up a Tyrolean mountain and toss off a clutch of high E flats at the top.

As designed by Chantal Thomas, these peaks consisted of feebly conceived maps. First seen at London's Covent Garden, a much smaller house, the show has rather basic sets brightened by Laurent Pelly's humorous direction. He resisted all campy options and got nuanced performances from the cast, including that nice ham, Alessandro Corbelli as Sulpice.

Felicity Palmer stopped the show as the Marquise, who finally admits the orphan is her daughter -- fortunately not until torturing Dessay with music lessons. Actress Marian Seldes made a hilarious debut tottering around in the speaking role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp, whose lines she often chose to intone in English when the French got too frustrating. The reception scene with her equally ancient and addled society friends staggering through the chateau was hugely enjoyable.

La fille du régiment, Metropolitan Opera, New York
Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times, April 23 2008

There are two good reasons to see La fille du régiment. One is Donizetti's charming score. The other is the tenor who sings "Pour mon âme", which rises to nine  count 'em, nine  treacherous high Cs.

The Met confounded expectations on Monday. The music was often obscured by frantic sight-gags in Laurent Pelly's fussy new production, previously staged in Vienna and London. And, with Juan Diego Flórez on duty, one could forget about those nine high Cs. The Peruvian wonder sailed through his showpiece twice, thus flashing 18 glorious top notes.

A standing ovation, mid-scene, marked the first solo encore in the house since Luciano Pavarotti repeated "E lucevan le stelle" in Tosca 14 years ago. Flórez sang throughout with unique suavity and poise, ventured stratospheric interpolations that took our breath away if not his, and executed hokey high jinks  including a final entrance atop a tank  with apparent good humour.

Natalie Dessay worked very hard to hold her own in the tomboyish title-role. Invoking images of Pippi Longstocking, Giulietta Masina in La strada and Huckleberry Finn, she sustained pop-eyed bravado that denied prima-donna allure (forget Lily Pons and Joan Sutherland). One had to admire her wit and daring, even when the humour began to cloy, even when acrobatics endangered coloratura accuracy, even when her tone turned wiry.

Felicity Palmer capitalised on crusty chest-tones as an endearingly supercilious Marquise of Berkenfield. Donald Maxwell executed her butler's duties crisply. Alessandro Corbelli made a sly old puppy-dog of Sergeant Sulpice. Marian Seldes, replacing the originally announced Zoe Caldwell, brought magnetic authority and austerity to the stances of the Duchess of Krakenthorp. The chorus sang and pranced with disciplined gusto.

Marco Armiliato did his best to sustain high spirits in the pit. That could not have been easy, given the endless stretches of updated dialogue en français, not to mention a clumsy-cartoon concept that yanked the plot from 1800 to the first world war. The director tried desperately to make this semi-surreal Fille funny. Sadly, he made it merely silly.

The Place to Be if You Like Hearing High C's
Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal, 1 May 2008

One of Peter Gelb's innovations at the Metropolitan Opera has been to welcome co-productions, a policy switch that has given New Yorkers such delights (all first seen in the U.K.) as Anthony Minghella's "Madama Butterfly," the recent "Satyagraha" and now Laurent Pelly's delicious new production of Donizetti's "La Fille du Régiment" (1840), complete with its stunning star duo, Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez. In this incarnation, "Fille" is not just a trifle, an otherwise pointless vehicle to enable a couple of virtuoso singers to stand around and show off their high notes, but a full-blown comic romp. Mr. Pelly has a genius for comedy -- his "La Belle Hélène" at the Santa Fe Opera was one of the funniest opera productions ever -- and I can't wait to see if he will transfer that energy to the noncomic "La Traviata" which he will direct, with Ms. Dessay singing the role for the first time, in Santa Fe in 2009.

But first, the news. The money moment in "Fille" is the tenor's aria, "Ah, mes amis," in which he has to sing nine high Cs in rapid succession. It was Luciano Pavarotti's calling card at the Met in 1972, and Mr. Flórez has been bringing down the house with it for some time. Indeed, audiences often demand that he repeat the section with the high C's; this occurred most recently at La Scala in Milan, which usually prohibits encores. So it was no surprise when Mr. Flórez gave the rapturous Met audience a reprise. The applause -- and the encore -- were certainly warranted. This young Peruvian singer has an elegant, high-lying tenor, perfect for bel canto, and those exciting, crystalline high Cs -- all 18 of them -- felt like part of a seamless line, rather than hard work.

If Mr. Flórez was the flaming Baked Alaska of the show, Ms. Dessay was the main course. This astonishing French soprano, a knockout Lucia in the Met's opening production last fall, throws herself into comedy as completely as she does into tragedy. "Fille" is the tale of an orphan, Marie, who is adopted by a French regiment. She falls in love with Tonio, a Tyrolean peasant who enlists in order to marry her, but when she is discovered to be the long-lost child of an aristocrat, she is carried off against her will to embark on a life of privilege and advantageous matrimony. Of course, all ends happily.

And from the instant that the tiny Ms. Dessay stomped onstage, staggering under a pile of laundry, dressed in drab bits of a military uniform (Mr. Pelly also designed the costumes; things were updated to approximate World War I) with a scraggly red wig and a jutting pigtail, she was the tomboy sidekick of the regiment, both funny and touching. Ms. Dessay fearlessly uses everything she has -- her face, her body, the space around her, the other singers and, of course, her splendid voice -- to the utmost. Whether she's matching her pinpoint coloratura to the strokes of her iron on the ironing board, peeling potatoes, stabbing a pile of laundry with a bayonet, leaping into her Tonio's arms for a smooch, mourning her departure from the regiment, the only family she knows, in the heartbreaking "Il faut partir," or poignantly trying hard to be a girl, in a buttoned-to-the-neck dress, in Act II, she is completely in the moment. What other singer would allow herself to slung over another character's shoulder and carried offstage -- still singing -- while still another puts a hand over her mouth to shut her up?

Happily, the rest of the show is just as animated. Together, Mr. Pelly and the conductor, Marco Armiliato, captured Donizetti's antic pace (shades of Gilbert and Sullivan, at times), and skillfully balanced the screwball comedy with moments of real feeling. Mr. Pelly proved unusually skillful at blocking the chorus, which plays an important role (it's a regiment of doting fathers). They sing handsomely and moved fluidly and well, craftily getting between Marie and Tonio, sadly handing her souvenirs as she departed, and finally, riding to her rescue at the end of Act II. The set, designed by Chantal Thomas, is simple, flexible and witty: a hilly topography made of piles of faded maps of Europe, a long line of washing that "marched" across the stage when Marie sang the regimental anthem; an open, chalet-like room for the Marquise of Berkenfield's chateau. Joël Adam did the careful lighting. Choreographer Laura Scozzi supplied some properly silly dances.

The other principals also entered willingly into the comedy. Mr. Flórez used his curly-haired cuteness to persuade us of his youth and determination (he looked pretty funny in lederhosen, and then like a boy proudly dressing up in his brand-new uniform), and he can sing lyrical arias just as eloquently as high Cs. Baritone Alessandro Corbelli was hilarious as the sergeant Sulpice, Marie's principal "father"; Felicity Palmer was equally game, reeling between pomposity and despair as the Marquise, Marie's aunt (but, it turns out, really her mother). Donald Maxwell was a perfect straight man as the Marquise's butler, Hortensius; Marian Seldes, a last-minute addition as the Duchess of Krakenthorp, the mother of Marie's intended aristocratic bridegroom (a brief speaking role) had some trouble with the French dialogue but looked wonderfully and absurdly imperious. In general, the cast's French was excellent, with both sung text and spoken dialogue a testament to the value of good diction coaching (Agathe Mélinand, who was also associate director and Patricia Kristof Moy) and of course, in Ms. Dessay's case, the benefit of being a native speaker. More French comedies with her, please. How about Offenbach?

Peruano logra ovación de pie en Opera de NY
El Paso Times,  23 April 2008

Una rara ovación de pie en medio de su actuación, fue la recompensa para el peruano Juan Diego Florez, quien dejó a la audiencia de la ópera de Nueva York extasiada durante su participación en la obra de Donizetti "La Fille du Regiment" ("La hija del regimiento").

Florez quien interpretó al joven enfermo de amor, logró levantar a la gente de sus asientos en el primer acto, mientras parecía navegar con facilidad a través de sus notas al cantar el aria, "Pour mon ame" ("Para mi alma"), y luego cuando cantó por segunda vez.

No obstante, al final de la noche los aplausos fueron bastante equitativos para él y para su coestrella, la soprano francesa Natalie Dessay, quien interpretó el papel de Marie, la chica del título, con una brillante actuación.

Pero hubo mucho más para aplaudir en la producción, dirigida por Laurent Pelly, cuyo turbio y burdo humor representado en la trama no impidió que salieran a relucir los sentimientos genuinos.

La obra que recrea de forma actualizada la acción desde los tiempos de Napoleón hasta la Primera Guerra Mundial, fue una sensación cuando se estrenó la temporada pasada en el Convent Garden de Londres y luego cuando se presentó en Vienna. También ha sido un éxito aquí con todas las entradas de sus ocho presentaciones agotadas.

Florez, cuya agilidad y elegancia supera a los cantantes de hoy, fue sólido mientras alcanzaba un alto registro de la nota do. Cuando terminó la repetición, parecía que muy fácilmente podía hacerlo una tercera vez.
Para el segundo acto se superó a sí mismo con el aria "Pour me rapprocher de Marie" en que expresa su amor por Marie y su tristeza ante la posibilidad de perderla.

Dessay también fue una maravilla mientras revoloteaba con los soldados en el regimiento, correteando alrededor del set. En el segundo acto cuando regresa a una vida de lujos, forzada a abandonar sus pantalones y sujetadores, transmitió la infelicidad vestida con un pálido traje azul.

Uno de los momentos en que hizo estallar las risas fue cuando mostró su exasperación en una escena en la que toma una lección y se resiste a los intentos de aprender a interpretar una aria elegante, y que invariablemente siempre terminaba entonando como una canción militar.

Ambas estrellas hicieron despliegue de una encantadora química que hizo el inevitable final feliz mucho más que satisfactorio.

Tenor Sails Through High C's in a Histrionic 'Regiment' at the Met
Anne Midgette, Washington Post, 24 April 2008

Of all of the Metropolitan Opera's new productions this season, "La Fille du Regiment" ("The Daughter of the Regiment"), which opened Monday night, was the hottest ticket. Donizetti's opera is a frothy bagatelle famous for a tough tenor aria ("Ah, mes amis" has nine high C's) and, at the Met, its starmaking: It catapulted Luciano Pavarotti to preeminence in 1972, and had not been performed there since he last sang it in 1995. This production by Laurent Pelly, already a hit at Covent Garden and the Vienna State Opera, showcases Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez. It sold out well before opening night.

And Monday's audience appeared to be ecstatic. The applause for Florez's aria led to an encore that, while not entirely unexpected, went against a seldom-violated Met tradition. He is probably the only tenor of his stature singing today who is capable of producing 18 solid high C's in a single night -- and holding out the last one, thank you very much.

So if you are lucky enough to have a ticket, you will probably enjoy it. Here's why I didn't, as much as I would have liked to.

It's not the fault of the production, which makes the most of a slender piece that, like so many Italian comic operas, has even less substance in its second act than its first. Pelly sets the action of the 1840 opera around World War I; Chantal Thomas's sets are formed of giant period maps molded in the form of the Tirolean Alps (on which Florez, at one point, lost his footing). There is a lot of attention to detail, from the affecting opening, in which the chorus credibly dreads the incursion of French troops, to the amusing final scene of Act 2, which depicts an aristocratic milieu populated by doddering geriatrics.

And the acting is compelling, particularly from Dessay, who has a reputation as a singing actress and bears out the "actress" part to the hilt. Those who remember the stately Joan Sutherland in the title role of Marie, the girl adopted and raised as a daughter by the soldiers of a French regiment, may not be prepared for the tireless Dessay. She actually looks like a young teenager and plays the character something like Pippi Longstocking, a perpetual tomboy with an erect red braid, attacking the soldiers' ironing and her own high notes with equal rough adolescent energy, and suffering herself to being so manhandled by cast and chorus that one started to wonder if she were capable of delivering a high note without being suspended in midair on her side.

What disturbed me -- heresy though this be -- was the singing. Conventional wisdom has it that Dessay and Florez represent the acme of light voices today, but I have never enjoyed listening to either of them very much. Florez is a remarkable singer with solid production, but I am not as transported as many listeners are; I find his sound hard-edged and a little nasal, with a rapid-fire vibrato.

As for Dessay: All of her energetic stage business detracts from her singing, which is not, to my ear, strong enough to carry an evening (I didn't enjoy the Met's opening-night "Lucia," either). On Monday she sounded hoarse for much of the evening. The very top of her voice, with its remarkable high extension, is secure, but below that she sometimes seemed on the brink of faltering, and her spoken lines were delivered in such a way as to augment the hoarseness.

Certainly the casting was impressive. Felicity Palmer was a deluxe presence as the Marquise of Berkenfield, Marie's long-lost mother; Alessandro Corbelli was perfectly fine in the buffo role of Sulpice, a sergeant in Marie's regiment; and Marian Seldes earned big applause, more for her talent than for its being wasted on the shtick of the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Marco Armiliato, in the pit, gave an earnest reading that matched the tone on stage, and the orchestra sounded energetic.

But basically this opera is too silly to survive as an acting vehicle alone. One wants to balance out the familiar operatic routine of laughing at tired jokes -- however nicely reanimated - - with moments when you can luxuriate in over-the-top floods of sound. Florez did his best to provide them, but the balance was weighted too heavily toward drama, such as it was, for the evening to be quite successful. Fortunately for the Met, my view appears to have been a minority.