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Lithe and Musical

Donizetti's 'La Fille du Regiment',
enjoyed by ROBERT HUGILL


Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment is one of those pieces which require a pair of principals capable of dizzy virtuoso feats. But their bravura music is coupled to a rather fragile, lightly comic plot. The danger is that singers and director will be tempted to overdo things, leaving the opera pushed out of shape and the audience thinking 'is that all there is?'

French director Laurent Pelly does have a tendency to overdo things, but in his new production of the opera at Covent Garden (seen Saturday 20 January 2007) he has had the virtue to recognise that the story of La Fille du Regiment is about character and he has brilliantly enabled his cast to bring out the characters in the opera. He was helped by a cast who could not only sing Donizetti's dizzying music, but used it to further the drama and create rounded personae. Cast and director were also aided by Donizetti's music; Donizetti did not treat the opera as a pure romp, but gave his two principals Marie (Natalie Dessay) and Tonio (Juan Diego Florez) moments of sadness and pathos.

Pelly treated Marie and Tonio seriously, making their emotions real, or as real as the stylised opera comique would allow.

Natalie Dessay as Marie in the Royal Opera House production of Donizetti's 'La Fille du Regiment'. Photo © 2007 Bill Cooper
Natalie Dessay as Marie in the Royal Opera House production of Donizetti's 'La Fille du Regiment'. Photo © 2007 Bill Cooper

As Marie, Natalie Dessay is slight and tomboyish. She created a character which one reviewer likened to Chaplin's tramp. In the first act, whilst hymning the virtues of her life in the army camp and her wonderful regiment of fathers, she was surrounded by piles of washing needing ironing and potatoes to be peeled. This would all seem too much like a stunt if it were not for Dessay, who went far beyond simply singing the notes (amazing though that was) and used them to create a character for Marie, for whom we could feel both amused and sorry.

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Copyright © 22 January 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


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