on April 27, 2008
It's hard to write about this Covent Garden production without comparing it to the Teatro Carlo Felice production from 2005 which is also on DVD and features Juan Diego Florez. (In fact, both productions are updated to one of our 20th Century "World Wars," this one to WWI, the Teatro Carlo Felice production to WWII.) So, I'll compare the two since some readers may just want to buy one of them. I gave the other five stars and this one four, but I wouldn't make the choice on that basis alone. If you want to see what played at The Met in the spring of 2008, or if Natalie Dessay is one of your favorite performers, this is the DVD to buy.
Juan Diego Florez sings spectacularly in both productions. In this production, he does not encore "Ah, mes amis," so you'll have to do with just nine of his thrillingly precise high C's. However, I think he's more relaxed at Covent Garden, having added two years to his onstage experience.
Patrizia Ciofi of the Teatro Carlo Felice production cannot compete with Natalie Dessay as a comic actress. Beverly Sills called the role of Marie, "Lucille Ball with high notes." That describes Dessay's performance perfectly. Her high notes are indeed the highlight of her singing and her comic antics are a delight to watch. As I wrote in my review of the Teatro Carlo Felice production, Ciofi is not a natural comedienne. But, in my opinion, Ciofi has the superior voice; it is fuller, more varied in tone and more textured. She creates a more operatic Marie.
The Teatro Carlo Felice production gives the relationship between Sulpice and the Marquise a flirtatious turn. It adds a lot to their otherwise rather dull roles (dull compared to other supporting roles in Donizetti comedies, such as Dr. Dulcamara and Giannetta in "L'Elisir d'Amore").
Finally, the Teatro Carlo Felice production comes with a second DVD devoted to behind-the-scenes material that is as good as it gets. (I describe it in detail in my review of the Teatro Carlo Felice production.)
There are several reasons you might prefer this production to the Teatro Carlo Felice of 2005 even though I think the other is of higher quality overall. First, the Covent Garden production is the same production and the same cast (except for the speaking role of the Duchess of Crackentorp) that played at The Met this spring and was shown in movie theaters around the world. So, if you want to see that Met production, this is the DVD to buy. (Of course, Covent Garden features a different chorus, orchestra, and conductor.) Secondly, if you love Natalie Dessay, I recommend this production over Teatro Carlo Felice.
I thought the Teatro Carlo Felice production had more to offer: the encored "Ah, mes amis," the superior singing of Patrizia Ciofi, the delightful relationship that develops between Sulpice and the Marquise, and finally, that bonus DVD. You can't go wrong with either production.
on May 30, 2008
For those of you that saw this production with the Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD, this is the same show. Natalie Dessay's impecable comedic timing and sparkling coloratura, Juan Diego Florez's brilliant high C's, and Laurent Pelly's genius staging all make this the best version of this opera available on DVD (only the Sutherland/Pavarotti version surpasses on CD).
However, this taping does not match the performance given at the Met on April 26, 2008. Dessay was not in as good of condition (I assume) at Coven Garden, and thus a great deal of her vocal ornamentation heard at the Met is not present on this DVD. Nonetheless, she remains a wonderful singing actress, even if the vocal embelishments aren't quite what they were in New York.
It also seems that this production had a chance to iron out some minor flaws after touring in London and Vienna. If you did not see the production in New York, this will not affect you. I just felt the production was funnier, the singer's were more relaxed in their roles, and things just seemed to run smoother overall at the Met.
My last little complaint was that the lighting seems to be dimmer at Covent Garden. I don't know what it is, but a few scenes seemed lost in the shadows.
Don't get me wrong, this is a wonderful DVD that shouldn't be missed. My complaints are small. While the Met's production earned 5/5 stars, this one might earn 4.9/5. I highly recommend this DVD.
on December 23, 2008
It's clear from all the 5-star reviews that there is no danger that anyone will be wondering if this production is worth considering - it clearly is. But I am still keen to make a crucial argument in favor of Ms Dessay's brilliant performance. It seems to me that we - our generation - will be seen in any account of the history of opera, as the first to see productions which - as a general rule, rather than as a rare event - have taken into account the importance of great acting. Opera is, after, indisputably a dramatic art. Millions of dollars and euros and pounds and rubles would not be spent on staging it if it were not. Concert performances have their place, and audio-only recordings enable us to "produce" the operas we love in "the theatre of the mind," with the advantage, on occasion, of having a cast which includes the very best singers of the age; but there is nothing to compare with a production, in an opera house, in which the performances on stage make us believe in the *truth* of what we are witnessing. And our generation sees many more productions than any of its predecessors did in which the singers are also actors who are able, both through how they look and how they act, to make it easy to suspend out disbelief, even make us forget about the central anomaly - that the people in front of us sing rather than speak. We can BELIEVE IN what we see, and thus enjoy it to the full.
That said, it strikes me that we are especially fortunate to be living when Natalie Dessay is at the pinnacle of her art. In this instance she is able to demonstrate that she is a brilliant comedienne. For heaven's sake, LA FILLE DU REGIMENT is not the operatic equivalent of a fragile piece of porcelain; it is a jeu d'esprit which has its tongue in its cheek throughout. And Marie is a tomboy who has every right to think of herself as a drudge, and it is this (I think perfectly appropriate) version of Marie that Dessay chooses to embody. (I do not have any inside information about the respective contributions of actor and director, I simply believe, after seeing N.D. in numerous different roles, in every one of which she is stunningly convincing, that the uniqueness of her Marie is largely her own creation.)
In almost every instance, in my experience, I would say that if I was watching a play rather than an opera and Ms Dessay performed as "only" an actor, I would be similarly engaged by the quality of her performance. And would applaud as I do when I watch her in opera - from the gut. She is, I believe, an actor of genius, perhaps the one great virtuoso of her generation. I feel sad about anyone who does not love this little shrimp of a sutler, as she does her work and grumbles about it at the same time, who is ready, literally, to jump into the arms of the rather stiff Tyrolean she has found, who is utterly bewildered (but not fazed) by the letter in which she learns who she is. It is a stunningly fine piece of acting, AND, miraculously, she can sing bel canto as well as anyone singing today - and better than almost everyone else. And Strauss, and Mozart, and Ravel and Offenbach and... and...
This DVD is one very happy event, in my opinion, one that delivers an hour and a half of high-spirited comedy performed close to perfection. I've been watching a recording taken off the broadcast of the same production from the Vienna State Opera, in which there is also the sublime pleasure of Montserrat Caballé's appearance as the Duchess. Heavenly! And how lovely it is to see how thrilled Dessay is in her presence.
on June 29, 2015
Of Donizetti’s three comic operas, namely “L’Elisir d’Amore,” “Don Pasquale” and “La Fille du Regiment,” the latter is probably the least sophisticated. It is also I would think the most difficult to present and produce. The heroine Marie needs to possess the ability to sing at the coloratura soprano level and also have significant comic acting ability to make this somewhat silly role even vaguely credible. Additionally, the principal tenor, as Tonio (Marie’s suitor), should preferably be youthful in appearance. More importantly, he must have the ability to toss off nine high C's in the notoriously difficult aria “Ah! mes amis.” It is for these reasons that one rarely sees “La Fille” performed nowadays.
This production of “La Fille du Regiment” from the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden succeeds because Natalie Dessay fulfills the vocal and acting requirements for the role of Marie and Juan Diego Florez is a youthful, winsome and delightful Tonio who makes the difficult role look like a piece of cake. Whatever one might think of the merits or lack of merits of this opera, I doubt that there are any other singers alive today who could do a better job in this opera than Ms. Dessay and Mr. Florez.
It is difficult to watch this DVD to its conclusion and not end with a smile on one’s face. It is true that Ms. Dessay’s interpretation of Marie is somewhat over the top. At times I did not know whether I was watching Edith Piaf singing opera or Olympia the mechanical doll from “Les Contes d’Hoffman.” Also, I did not think she attained the vocal excellence of Joan Sutherland in this role. However, she sang beautifully. In Act I as the vivandiere of the unbeaten Twenty-first Regiment of French Grenadiers, she sings “Au bruit de la guerre” and the song of the regiment “Chacun le sait, chacun le dit” at a brisk martial pace achieving all the high notes quite effortlessly. Her sad farewell aria ( “Il faut partir”) to the regiment at the end of the act is exquisitely sung and most poignant.
We first see Juan Diego Florez looking rather silly in Tyrolean attire in Act I. He later changes it to the uniform of the Grenadiers and then looks much better. However, there is nothing silly about his amazing rendition of “Pour mon ame” in which he effortlessly tosses of the requisite nine high C's to huge audience applause. The Act I love scene duet for Tonio and Marie”De cet aveu si tendre” is beautifully sung.
In Act II, the stage director Laurent Pelly piles on the slapstick to an extent that can make one cringe occasionally. I found Dawn French’s interpretation of the speaking role of La Duchess de Crackenthorp to be somewhat ridiculous and even irritating. The entry of the wedding guests is bizarre to say the least. I do not think Donizetti intended them to look like zombies from some horror movie. However, Felicity Palmer as La Marquise de Berkenfeld gives a delightful performance in both acts. I enjoyed her singing and her acting interpretation of this comic role is funny without being excessively camp. Alessandro Corbelli as Sulpice, the sergeant of the French Grenadiers, gives a warm and pleasant performance and is ideally suited to the role. Donald Maxwell as the ridiculous Hortensius, the steward to the Marquise, does his best in this somewhat thankless role. Bruno Campanella’s conducting is competent.
The production values of the CD are very good with excellent video, audio and subtitles. I found it amazing that Erato which produced the DVD did not bother to include anything of any value or substance in the insert. There is no synopsis of the opera; nor is there any discussion of the history of the opera as one has become accustomed to in most opera DVDs from Deutsche Grammophon. Laurent Pelly’s sets are visually drab and unappealing.
In conclusion, this is likely the best DVD of “La Fille du Regiment” currently available and would therefore be a useful addition to any opera lover’s DVD collection.
on August 18, 2009
I just viewed my new purchase of "La Fille du Régiment." Every singer was superb in this performance. Just to listen to Flórez sing the nine high Cs in "Ah! mes amis," was a delight. It was pure perfection, and what a voice! One thing that surprised me was the DVD that I received from Amazon had a format of 16:9, not 1.33:1 as it was described at Amazon. If I had known that I would have bought it a long time ago. Along with "La Fille" I also bought the Met performance of "La Bohème." It was also an amazing performance with all the magnificent staging that the Metropolitan is famous for. The DVD also included the back stage activity that went on during the intermission. Quite interesting to watch. These 2 operas are quite stunning. I recommend them.
on May 28, 2012
After reading all these reviews I too am in the minority. I have seen about 130 operas but must admit this is not in my top 100. To be fair to the opera I should probably watch it again. First the sets were horrible and Eurotrash like. I found Natalie's frenetic behavior annoying...cuteness to the point of ugliness. And I found the entire score unmemorable. I wish I had the Sill's performance to compare it to. I just did not enjoy the opera comedy. I always pictured Jeanette MacDonald in this role, someone with a little more elegance who could win the adoration of an entire regiment. Lucille Ball on uppers is just not fun in an opera. But I will give it another try. She must have really bothered me since Florez did not stand out in this opera like he has in so many others I own.
on November 18, 2015
I have several earlier versions of the opera, Sills from the 70's and Sutherland in the 80's ijncluded. Both shine. Dessay's of this Century does not suffer by comparison.....since each is a highly original talent and projects a different character than the others. Certainly, Dessay's body and acting skill clearly makes her a better choice for the orphan of a regiment than did the fuller bodies of the two OIympian talents. She is lucky to have the handsome, youthful Florez as her smitten suitor and a fine supporting cast with excellent staging and scenery which reinforces the comic heart of the vehicle. One very great advantage for the average, less than opera-erudite member of the audience, are the subtitles absent in the earlier versions (although Sills' Wolf-Trap version is in English...still hard to make out when sung). One knows exactly what is going on at all times, a great advantage brought to the United States by Sills while managing Lincoln Center. Singers reported to her that the audience was far more attentive and responsive since their introduction.
News sources carried stories a few years ago (it is now the end of 2015) that Dessay had announced her retirement from the opera (but not concert) stage as of this year. I have no idea (and find nothing from quick search) to indicate whether she has, indeed, stood by her announcement. In any event, this is a good showcase for her talents.
on May 9, 2008
I can see that my judgment of this newest version of "Fille du Regiment' places me in a distinct minority among reviewers here. Perhaps I missed those overriding virtues so many have seen in it, but for my money the performance, except in one area, was about as enjoyable as a root canal. Despite its own absurdities of shifted time setting and even more irrational military alliances, the Ciofi/Florez version, I'd argue, has more to offer grown-up opera lovers than this childish cartoon, a compendium of the excesses and cliches of allegedly "cutting-edge" Regie theater.
First of all, as several others have noticed, there is a marked ugliness distinguishing the sets; indeed, they are eyesores from the opening curtain to the finish, but a necessity for Eurotrash productions ever on guard against the seductiveness of beauty.
Next, all of the characters onstage, principals and choristers, are kept frenetically "busy," on the apparent assumption that the audience is largely composed of Attention Deficit Disorder sufferers. Thus we ascend from an unconvincing chorus line of dancing, pitchfork carrying peasants to a heroine who manically irons, does Chaplin like salutes, and turns cartwheels, and to a hero who late in the action even enters driving a tank onto the stage. As directed here, the usually brilliant singing actress Dessay made me nostalgic for the bad old days of stand and deliver singing, the days when one would no more look at an opera star than stare at a radio. The temptation was strong to shout out to her, "Don't do anything for a change! Just stand there!" Not only did a straining after "too much cute" blemish her performance throughout, but she or her director seemed clueless even to recognize when the show was over. Therefore, during the curtain calls, she repeated certain of her earlier "stage business" maneuvers accompanied by shrieks and parrot-like squawks. Happily, the other principal, the hero sung by Florez, chose or was allowed here to maintain his natural grace and dignity. In my view, the principals were to a person crude caricatures of the more richly comic figures they are in the libretto, and their reconception here is a testimony to the vulgarity of the director. I won't speculate about what the ecstatic reception they were accorded may say about the nascent barbarism of the audience.
Why then the three stars? The lead singers who'd be worth listening to if they were singing the telephone book are the answer. Though I, too, noticed Dessay's tendency toward "too much pressure" on some fortissimo top notes, giving them a scream-like quality, she is a soprano of prodigious coloratura gifts. When she sang softly, and her director, save for making her pull a ridiculous clothes line about the stage, let her be, she sang a particularly beautiful "Il faut partir." Similarly, Florez, freed for several minutes from directorial "busyness," was allowed to sing another wonderful "Ah! mes amis." In these moments, the opera came alive, though they were at odds with the gross overall vision and tendency of the production. Donizetti, Ciofi and Florez - and opera viewers - were better served in the earlier Teatro Carlo Felice revival.
on July 22, 2014
I loved it but it sure was a visually incongruent Alice in Wonderland character portrayal as ever I sat through one. Natalie Dessay was a comic genius in the pure physicality of her performance. Her voice was astounding in her agility in singing so many difficult passages while keeping up her physical acting through out the performance. There were so many laugh out loud moments in the first Act that I was wiping tears from my eyes! She marches and sings with such gusto and heart as the tomboyish young girl who is literally the daughter of the regimen raised by 1,500 "Daddies" since she was adopted as an orphaned toddler. A young woman now, Marie irons their uniforms and runs the camp mess hall and sings their songs of victories dreaming of becoming a soldier someday herself. The "Dads" are more interested in keeping her in camp where she is safer. Furthermore, the only plans they have of her ever joining the regiment is if she should one day marry one of the men and be a good little wife making a home of her own. Meanwhile she meets Tonio a local Tyrolean boy, while out picking wildflowers, and a friendship blossoms (forgive the pun). The problem is Political: the Regiment is the occupying French army and as a local, Tonio is the enemy! The enemy can never marry or be with Marie! Juan Diego Florez was immensely charming and convincing as the love struck Tonio who does everything he can to win over Marie's "Army of fathers" in allowing her to marry him including renouncing his motherland and joining the French army! Marie decides she "Loves" Tonio and wants to be with him too. I say "loves" Tonio with quotation marks because this is where the schizophrenic characterization comes in and why I gave this a three star instead of a 5 star. Dessay's Marie voice sings like a girl emerging into young womanhood when in camp she tries to negotiate an armistice between her fathers and Tonio, but her character's mannerisms portray a very pre-adolescent child. Later, when Tonio declares his love for her and his intentions to marry her, she searches her heart and decides "yeah, I guess I love you too" but hitherto acts like a child with a schoolgirl crush on a screen idol rather than a mature woman who has any idea of love and marriage. Dessay furthers this very immature characterization of Marie months down the road when she is reunited with her "Aunt" (secretly her biological mother) to be re-schooled into a Lady Baroness. In her effort to maintain the comedic nature of the character and her own brilliant way of moving around on stage Dessay continues the same mannerisms she gave the free-spirit Marie including the same hair as if no transformation had occurred under her Aunt's training. They put her in a dress and girl shoes. I guess that was a start. I would have expected that they would have combed her hair up into the style of the times for an elegant young lady and taught her to sit and walk like a lady implying an outward transformation. Then and only then would I have accepted Dessay letting slip parts of the old free spirited "Daughter of the Regiment" Marie showing that you can put on all of the outwards appearances of a refined lady but she is still the rough and tumble tomboy inside. She walks and crawls around on the floor like a 6 year old; plops down on the floor like a wide eyed rag doll actually. I found the whole persona very distracting. On the one hand she is singing pure beautiful lyrical notes while on the other hand she is crawling around on the floor like a child. Is this supposed to be a young woman in love and ready to marry? It was comedy and very entertaining but it could have been better or at least less distracting if Marie could have acted a little more mature. Meanwhile the ensemble was brilliantly portrayed by the supporting cast of Felicity Palmer as La Marquise de Berkenfeld and Dawn French as the Duchess de Crankentorp.Their characters were funny and their singing was noteworthy. Juan Diego Florez's "Ah Mes amis" (as Tonio,) was so beautiful I had to replay it three times before moving on to the rest of the performance. He hits the high C's with better clarity than any tenor out there. His acting was natural and charming to say the least. I would recommend buying this and re-watching it just for his and Felicity Palmers' performances alone. Palmers pieces were smooth and soft as silk and a pleasure to listen to.
on February 8, 2014
To many non-opera fans, the phrase "Opera-comique" or comic opera may sound like something out of a George Carlin routine, an example of a hilariously incongruous phrase that our befuddled bureaucratic world has unwittingly produced, like "death benefits" or 'military intelligence." True opera buffs, however, know that one of opera's greatest secrets is that its canon features a number of hilarious, classic comedies that can leave you in stitches while also offering the opportunity to hear some truly great music and enjoy vocal performances by the finest singers in the world at the top of their craft. For sheer transcendent delight few other mediums can compare.
One of the most famous examples of the "Opera-comique" is Donizetti's "La Fille Du Regiment." This video offers a recorded performance of a new production directed by Laurent Pelly that premiered at the Royal Opera House in the winter of 2007 (where this production was filmed) that subsequently appeared elsewhere, including at the Met in the spring of 2008.
"La Flle Du Regiment" takes on several classic opera tropes -- forbidden love, false identities, class conflict -- and extents them to their farthest extremes. After a fairly straight-faced opening, featuring the citizens of a small Alpine village praying to a small shrine to deliver them from the advancing French hordes, the laughs begin with the arrival of La Marquise de Berkenfeld (even the character's names bring a smile) and keep on coming. Much of the first act takes place on a field when a French army division has bivouacked, and features a backdrop of mixed-up military maps, perhaps suggesting the pointlessness of warfare. The second act takes place in a mansion, where characters op in and out of doorways and drawers. This production is generally light on scenery and props, keeping the focus on the performers as much as possible.
The cast is really fine. Felicity Palmer, in the Margret Dumont-type role of the Marquise, makes the most as the "straight-woman" of the mad proceedings around her. Alessandro Corbelli provides a stern yet affectionate Sulpice Pingot. As Torio, the male lead, Juan Diego Florez looks cute both as a dashing soldier and as an Alpine hiker who goes looking for love and finds himself in front of a firing squad, and he delivers the vocal goods in the famous "Ah! Mes Amis, Quel Jour de Fete!" aria in the first act.
The star of this production, however, is Natalie Dessay. Indeed, in many ways this is essentially a star vehicle for her. From the moment she appears on stage as Marie, with her Pippi Longstocking haircut, slinging an iron across an ironing board, a metaphor for the years of sublimated sexual heat this "daughter" of the regiment has built up, Ms. Dessay lights up the stage with enough energy and charisma to power the city of Paris for a year.
Som,e commentators have complained that Ms. Dessay's performance is too much over-the-top, too physical, too manic, too much out of the Bugs Bunny or Lucille Ball school of acting, and detracts from their enjoyment of the opera as a whole. This is all subjective, of course. During her turbulent career (is there any other type of career for a superstar soprano?) Ms. Dessay famously had a love/hate relationship with opera, believing that too often the medium constrained her instincts and talents as an actress. Here, though, she is clearly enjoying herself, and drawing on all her talents, as a singer and an actress, to deliver a performance that captures the emotional shifts Marie must go through as her world spins rapidly out of control, taking her from the only world Marie has known since she was adopted as a battlefield orphan to the mansion of La Duchesse de Crackentorp. When she is reunited with Sulpice and Tonio and breaks out in joyous song and dance, it makes for one of the most transcendently joyous scenes I've seen in an opera (or anywhere else) in a very long time. Anytime you're feeling a little blue or even suffering from a case of the "mean reds" pop this into your DVR player and I'll guarantee you'll feel better.
One additional note: The direction of this video production, by TV director Robin Lough, is first-rate. Lough keeps the camera gliding over the action, staying away from both too many close-ups, which can be deadly in opera, or too many long shots, distancing us from the action, making for a terrific home-viewing experience.
Definitely recommended for opera fans, especially those just starting out and who may feel a little intimidated by the heavier tragedies but want to start building up a home library of the canon. Also, a perfect 'starter opera" for young people or others you may know who think opera is strictly the preserve of old people who dress up like Mr. Monopoly and his wife.