Donizetti – La Fille du régiment
Marie – Patrizia Ciofi
Tonio – Frédéric Antoun
Sulpice – Pietro Spagnoli
La Marquise de Berkenfield – Ewa Podleś
La Duchesse de Crackentorp – Kiri Te Kanawa
Hortensius – Donald Maxwell
Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Yves Abel.
Stage director – Laurent Pelly.
Royal Opera House, London. Tuesday, March 18th, 2014.
This was the second consecutive evening that I spent at the Royal Opera House after a thrilling Frau ohne Schatten the previous evening. I very much hope to find time to finish writing my post on that particular show as it was an incredible evening. In the meantime, I just wanted to share some thoughts on this outstanding Fille du regiment that I had the pleasure of seeing.
Laurent Pelly’s staging has been around quite a bit and before it started I initially worried that it might be getting a bit stale. I needn’t have worried as, as soon as it began, it seemed as fresh as the day it was first performed. I think part of this was certainly due to Yves Abel’s perfectly-paced account of the score. In a score where invention can occasionally seem lacking, Abel papered over the cracks and conducted a reading that was full of vigour and swing. It was terrific. There were the usual occasional intonation issues in the strings here and there but otherwise it was competently played.
He was joined by a superb cast who really did justice to Donizetti’s writing. The main attraction for me was the chance to reacquaint myself with the outstanding Quebec tenor Frédéric Antoun. He is one of a remarkable generation of artists from la belle province right now and it is truly extraordinary how this nation of eight million people can produce so many singers of such excellent quality. Indeed, it gave me immense pride to see an artist from chez nous perform on this major international stage. Antoun’s voice has a rich mahogany tone quality but the range holds no terrors and his top opens up beautifully. The line is easy and he has an implicit understanding of the phraseology that is simply magical. Combined with perfect diction, he really is an artist to watch in this repertoire. Make no mistake, this is a major talent. It is remarkable to think that I have seen two outstanding young exponents of this role within a few months of each other, following the Mexican tenor, Eleazar Rodríguez, in Karlsruhe last November. Who said the art of bel canto is no more?
Patrizia Ciofi sounded slightly under the weather as Marie. There was a graininess to the tone that I was not previously aware of and there were reports from the start of the run that she was unwell. Despite that, she sang and acted fearlessly, the range holding no terrors and she gave everything to the role. I very much enjoy her dusky tone and pearly top and it was certainly there tonight. Ewa Podleś almost stole the show as the Marquise showing off all of her amazing range. Her fruity contralto with its shimmering top is a great fit for the role and she played the part of the grande dame to perfection. I’m very much looking forward to her Klytämnestra in Warsaw in a few weeks’ time.
Donald Maxwell is a highly experienced Hortensius and he was a witty and engaging presence. Likewise, Pietro Spagnoli’s Sulpice was terrifically sung and winningly acted. Tonight also marked the final appearance of Kiri Te Kanawa. It was in fact the only time I have ever seen her on stage. If the vibrations have loosened and the voice isn’t quite what it was, that easy top is certainly still there and she rewarded us with a brief musical interlude. The dialogue was delivered fluently.
Te Kanawa’s presence was a reminder that time doesn’t stop and that all great artists eventually move on. Fortunately, she has left us a great recorded legacy that can be enjoyed for many more years to come.
This was a superb performance of a show that can still amuse and move as much as ever. It also showcased a major new talent and allowed others to shine. It was one of those evenings that cemented the Royal Opera House’s reputation as one of the world’s finest.