La fille du régiment

 

Donizetti La fille du régiment opera to libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François-Alfred Bayard. Directed 2007 by Laurent Pelly (assistance in directing and dialogue by Agatha Mélinard) at the Royal Opera House. Stars Natalie Dessay (Marie), Juan Diego Flórez (Tonio), Felicity Palmer (La Marquise de Birkenfeld), Alessandro Corbelli (Sergeant Sulpice Pingot), Donald Maxwell (Hortensius), Dawn French (La Duchesse de Crackentorp), Bryan Secombe (A Corporal), Luke Price (A Valet), and Jean-Pierre Blanchard (A Notary). Bruno Campanella conducts the Orchestra (Peter Manning Concert Master) and Chorus of the Royal Opera House (Renato Balsadonna Chorus Master).  Sets by Chantal Thomas; costumes by Laurent Pelly; lighting by Joël Adam; choreography by Laura Scozzi. Directed for TV by Robin Lough; produced by Peter Byram and Hazels Wright. Released 2015, music was recorded at 48kHz/24-bit and disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital sound output. Grade: A+

The comic opera La fille du régiment isn't as highly regarded as Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore or Don Pasquale. Still, written in 1840, the French version played more than 1000 times at the Paris Opéra-Comique by 1914. After that it lost favor but has recently enjoyed a comeback. This 2007 Dessay/Flórez version at the Royal Opera House was a big hit and came out in 2008 as a prize-winning and popular DVD. Now you can see it in HDVD glory.

The story is simple, so I'll not say too much about the plot. I'll introduce you to the main characters and try to convince you to watch this production for sure if you have any interest in bel canto or comic opera.

It seems the soldiers of the 21st Regiment routed the enemy, but then discovered a new-born baby girl crying on the battlefield. The soldiers "adopted" her and called her Marie. In the first two screenshots (most of which are out-of-order), Marie (Natalie Dessay) and Sergeant Sulpice Pingot (Alessandro Corbelli) revel in Marie's life as "daughter of the regiment." And Marie has promised all her "Daddies" that if she ever marries, she will pick her husband out of their ranks:

Marie serves the regiment in the mess hall and laundry. She also entertains them, here pumping like a rock star with spectacular displays of coloratura extravagance:

The troops adore her:

It seems the French troops were deployed during the Napoleonic Wars in an effort to control the Tyrolean Alps. Here we meet Tonio (Juan Diego Flórez) dressed in traditional Tyrolean costume. He saved Marie's life while they were both climbing a mountain. So now poor Marie find herself fraternizing with the enemy!

The French soldiers catch Tonio and think he's a spy:

When Tonio learns that Marie can only marry a member of the regiment, he joins the French army! He quickly shows his mettle as a soldier and the troops have to admit that Marie can marry him. The next two screenshots show Tonio exulting over his good fortune by singing an aria with 9 high-C notes (called the Mount Everest of tenor aspirations). In the second picture, the orchestra rests while the audience roars and conductor Bruno Campanella also applauds:

The Marquise de Berkenfeld (Felicity Palmer) was in Tyrol when the regiment moved in. She appeals to Sulpice for safe passage home to Austria. When he learns her name, he realizes she might be related to Marie:

Marie learns she has an aristocratic aunt. But any joy this might bring her is overwhelmed by her sadness at leaving the regiment:

And she also will lose Tonio, whose term of enlistment is far from over:

Now Marie has all the benefits of money and rank, but she's miserable:

The Marquise and the formidable Duchesse de Crackentorp (Dawn French) arrange for Marie to "marry up":

And there are other hidden problems:

But eventually, Marie will be reunited with Tonio and Sulpice. Watch the HDVD to learn how this all occurs:

The plot is anemic. But who cares with the glorious orchestration and bel canto vocals scored by Donizetti. All the stars are splendid singers and actors, especially Dessay, who sets a new standard for singing and acting prowess in this comic role. Flórez has much less to do than Dessay in this show, but he still has become famous for his ability to sing all the high notes called for by Donizetta. (When Flórez sang his 9 high-Cs in 2007 at La Scala, the audience demanded and got the first solo encore that had been performed at that house in 74 years!) In addition to all the laughs and the great singing, Pelly also came up with beautiful sets and costumes as well as excellent personal directing. SQ and PQ are fine. So it appears this La fille du régiment is easily the best video recording of the opera ever and also competitive with legacy CDs. All this makes it a snap to give his disc an "A+" grade.