La Fille du Régiment - Opera Holland Park, 4 June 2008
Opera Holland Park - now with wings for added protection. As you can just about see on the right of the pic above, this year's canopy improvements include side panels - in case we ever get any sun? They were no barrier to the small tweety birds that rocketed over the orchestra's heads from time to time. But, seated at the side, I was grateful to be shielded from a chilly breeze.
It doesn't seem that long since La Fille was entertaining us at Covent Garden. William Kerley's production for OHP is necessarily less ambitious and less reliant on extraneous visual jokes. Stripped back to the direct humour of the music and libretto, it's an altogether less slapstick proposition. With a vaguely period setting that made sensible use of the natural backdrop of Holland House, and set elements cunningly concealed in giant wooden triangles (above), to be whipped out at the appropriate moment, the plight of Marie is clearly placed at the centre of the action.
Hye-Youn Lee was a great find for the title role. Petite and spunky, she rattled effortlessly through the coloratura in a clear girlish tone. Accuracy seemed to be her main goal, and she could do with a bit more light and shade in the voice, but she at least had a surer grip of the French language than most other cast members.
Luciano Botelho could body-double for Juan Diego Flórez, and he has the same attractive ring to his voice. He did make the role of Tonio sound like the hard work it undoubtedly is, with a couple of his high C's in Ah! Mes amis shooting wide, but I wondered if this was simply nerves. (Perhaps he just needed a beer or two?)
Graeme Broadbent didn't seem sure whether he was George Clooney or Basil Fawlty, but he sang Sulpice with heart and conviction. Sarah Pring's Marquise de Birkenfeld was maybe a little too sympathetically drawn - more pompousness at the start would have made her revelation more affecting - but she sang attractively. But some of the best singing of the night came from the chorus, especially the men of the regiment, rousing and immaculately schooled.
The orchestra, under Robert Dean, played with tremendous verve and enthusiasm. Not everyone could keep up with the cracking pace, and there were a few ensemble issues from time to time, but they didn't reallly cloud the performance. That was left to the Holland Park peacocks, who joined the performance at start of Act II and lingered with Wagnerian persistence. May I suggest the OHP management check out the toy catalogues?