La Fille du régiment - Royal Opera House, 17 May 2010
This was my fifth or so viewing of Laurent Pelly’s now-classic production, and I have to confess – this time it was easier to understand how the cast get through the night without cracking up. The humour relies on visual gags which inevitably tire eventually - the line of dancing underpants, the housemaids’ choreographed dusting, even the final coup de theatre as Juan Diego Flórez rolls in to save the day atop a tank. Agathe Mélinand's crudely updated dialogue is hardly timeless either. But I could forgive the uncontrolled laughter of the other 99% of the audience – I was there once. And let’s face it, as comic operas go, La Fille du régiment is actually not that funny on the page nor musically inventive enough to compensate. It needs Pelly’s interventions more than it needs preserving in aspic.
But even Pelly's most obvious humour is never entirely stale with this superb cast. Flórez has matured from a self-conscious slapstick comedian into a genuine comic actor – his timing as he attempted to join in the regimental song was a particular joy. Elegant and unexpectedly touching in Pour me rapprocher de Marie, exuberantly tossing out the multiple high C’s of Ah, mes amis, gamely sporting lederhosen in the name of Art – it wasn’t just a faultless performance but a truly memorable one.
Natalie Dessay’s tomboy Marie is the real heart of this production though. Braces pinging, coloratura brilliantly matched to ironing, it’s a charming characterisation that hovers dangerously close to caricature and, it must be said, occasionally oversteps the line. The odd cloudy top note was the only real sign of vocal wear. Ann Murray’s slender-voiced Marquise was more sympathetic than Felicity Palmer’s first run Lady Bracknell, and a better partner to Alessandro Corbelli’s soft-hearted, coarse-grained Sulpice.
I was lucky enough to catch Montserrat Caballé’s Duchess de Crackentorp when this production found its way to Vienna. Dawn French's mugging and stage-hogging can of course bear no comparison, but the hysterical laughter testified to her post-interval audience appeal.
Bruno Campanella let pass some of the sloppiest orchestral playing I’ve heard all year, but his tempi were ideal and his pit to stage balance perfect.
These pictures are from last Friday's general rehearsal: