Donizetti's comic opera, La Fille du régiment, was spectacularly brought to life by the cast of the Royal Opera House production that I had the good luck to see on the 25th May 2010. I was in the second row from the front, and Juan Diego Florez belted out three of the nine High C's from "Ah! Mes amis" right in front of me. It was a great night.
The cast were superb. Natalie Dessay sang the role of the tomboy Marie, the "Fille" spoken of in the title of the opera. She has been quoted as saying that acting is more important to her than singing, yet in this performance she effortlessly merged the two. Her ability to hit impossibly high notes while ironing, being lifted into the air by the chorus, or by being carried along by one of her fathers, raised more than a couple of generous rounds of applause.
Dessay also left the audience enraptured in the beautiful "Il faut partir", with a touching portrayal, miles away from the potato-peeling, hyperactive mess-girl we had the joy of meeting at the beginning of the opera.
Ann Murray, the only change from the original cast of three years ago, was excellent as the Marquise de Berkenfield. Murray managed to give a portrayal where the transformation from frigid aristocrat to broken yet loving mother had both psychological integrity and pathos, while never loosing her comic appeal. The singing-lesson scene, so often over-stated, was performed perfectly, with the right mix of comedy and exasperation from Murray.
Dessay's love interest, Tonio, was masterfully portrayed by Juan Diego Florez. His provincial characterisation sat perfectly within the context of both the opera and the production. Florez was on top form vocally, and the show-stopping aria "Ah! mes amis" was performed with such ease that the nine High C's seemed hardly to trouble him at all.
When he appeared onstage at the end of the opera, he was greeted with what can only be described as roars of approval, and the foot-stomping coming from the stalls almost caused a mini earthquake. Florez was excellent in this role and, being as I was so close to the stage, it was interesting to see how relaxed he was while knocking out the high notes.
Of the other roles, the one to mention was Dawn French as the La Duchesse de Crakentorp. I think many reviewers have unfairly pointed out that French's portrayal had definite similarities to her television roles. I think this was the point, really. Her comic presence allowed Murray, and some of the other characters, to have more of a comic feel than would have otherwise been the case, and the use of 'Franglais' added to the rather humourously arrogant portrayal. Many of the reviewers who stated that there was barely a murmur from the audience at the antics of La Duchesse, seem to have been at a different production from the one I went to, as the laughter from the audience was loud, spontaneous and genuine.
The chorus and the production were also excellent, for me the highlight being the 'servant's ballet' in Act 2. I thoroughly enjoyed the opera, and I would happily go and see it again.