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La Fille du régiment

Royal Opera at Covent Garden, April 27
 

Hugo Shirley

 

The thesauruses of London’s critical fraternity have already been exhausted of negative superlatives to describe the appearance of the former MP and dubious ‘reality star’ Ann Widdecombe in this revival of Laurent Pelly’s signature production of La Fille du régiment. Yes, she’s dreadful as the (Dieu soit loué!) non-singing Duchesse de Crakentorp; and no, she has no place on the Royal Opera House’s stage. However, if her appearance brought a new audience to Covent Garden—and it will be interesting to see if the company’s marketing department can provide evidence either way—then it would be churlish to grumble. Certainly, the audience at the third performance were indulgent towards her, dutifully laughing at the poor, increasingly less topical jokes; but the reactions to the rest of the cast and Pelly’s production seemed even warmer.

 

Putting La Widdecombe to one side, then, this was essentially a solid revival of a show that still has some charm left, even if much of its edge seems to have blunted over the half-decade since it was unveiled. Patrizia Ciofi and Colin Lee made an

excellent stab at stepping into the superstar shoes left by the production’s original Marie-Tonio pairing, Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez. Ciofi threw herself lustily into the part, even if she seemed to force the rugged tomboy characterization. The voice, too, lacks the requisite focus and ping for the coloratura, often sounding veiled and underpowered when it should be sharp and assertive. She was at her best in the moments of touching sadness—her ‘Il faut partir’ at the close of Act 1, or ‘Par le rang et par l’opulence’ in Act 2—where her considerable musicality shone through. Lee’s Tonio was altogether more breezily confident, and the South African tenor was at ease with the part’s famous demands and more uncomplicated characterization. The voice is perhaps not as tightly controlled or focused as that of his illustrious Peruvian colleague, but it is a fair bit juicier, and no less secure at the top. All the Cs were impressively and reliably there in ‘Ah, mes amis’, and while ‘Pour me rapprocher de Marie’ didn’t quite provide the minutely controlled sensitivity of Flórez, it was still beautifully done, and capped by an exquisite final phrase.

 (Continue reading in the June issue of Opera, subscribe here) 
Cabbells 2012 B & C
Opera Awards in association with OPERA Magazine