La Fille du regiment, Royal Opera

Laurent Pelly’s 2007
production is now in the hands of revival director Christian R‰th, who also
directed the 2012 revival. The production was created for Natalie Dessay and
Juan Diego Florez, but since 2012 the title role has been sung by the Italian
lyric soprano Patrizia Ciofi (see Claire Seymour’s review of
the 2012 revival
). For this revival Ciofi was joined by Florez (with two
performances later in the run being sung by Frederic Antoun). Also returning to
the role as Hortensius was Donald Maxwell and conductor Yves Abel was also on
the podium for the 2012 revival. With so many returning performers, it is
inevitable that the newcomers to their roles would be the focus of attention:
Pietro Spagnoli sang Sulpice and Ewa Podles was the Marquise de Berkenfeld. But
the eyes and ears of many in the audience were on Dame Kiri te Kanawa in the
speaking role of the Duchesse de Crackentorp.

The New Zealand soprano celebrates her 70th birthday during the present run,
and her assumption of the role of the Duchesse de Crackentorp represents her
first appearance at Covent Garden since the 1996/97 season. At Covent Garden
the role of the Duchesse de Crackentorp has previously been played by Dawn
French and by Anne Widdicombe, but when Laurent Pelly’s production has
appeared elsewhere then the Duchess has been played by both Kiri te Kanawa and
Montserrat Caballe.

Ciofi made a charming Marie, she has the right combination of gamine charm
and chutzpah which Pelly’s conception of the role requires. Physically
Ciofi’s performance was almost hyper-active, reflecting the current
conception of the production, and she is certainly a gifted comic. Natalie
Dessay’s physical comedy in the role must have been a difficult act to
follow, but Ciofi makes it her own. Vocally Ciofi has quite a soft grained
lyric voice, which meant that the more poignant moments (such as her lovely act
2 aria) worked very well. There was plenty of fluent passagework too, and Ciofi
has the gift of being able to imbue this with charm as well, she made the vocal
fire-works part of the character. Her acuti sometimes seemed a little pressed
and with a little too much vibrato for my taste, but she has been ill and
missed part of the dress rehearsal, so it is unfair to judge.

Juan Diego Florez remains in fine form, his voice perhaps a little heavier
and more solid than when he first sang the role, but he is still technically
superb. Despite the lure of the famous act 1 solo with the repeated top C’s,
it was his two slower arias which stick in the memory. Here Florez had a knack
of slowing time, and causing the busy activity to stop. He can caress and shape
a phrase without it being made to feel self-indulgent, and in these solo
moments was deservedly the entire focus of attention. The role of Tonio still
fits Florez stage persona well, the little-boy lost look still coming over

Pietro Spagnoli was a delight as Sulpice with good comic timing combined
with a neat way with Donizetti’s vocal line. His act one solo isn’t the
best number in the opera, but Spagnoli charmed and made a fine contribution to
the act two trio with Ciofi and Florez. More than that, he created a warm and
very funny character.

Ewa Podles is clearly a gifted comic actress, as Marquise de Berkenfeld she
used her voice to fine comic effect particularly the astounding lower register.
Both vocally and in spoken dialogue she made the comedy work and set up a nice
double act with Donald Maxwell’s Hortensius. Podles might now have a
noticeable break in her voice, but her technique is still in fine form and
there was as much to admire vocally as dramatically.

Kiri te Kanawa seemed less at ease with the comic business required, but the
role was extended for her and we got to hear her performing an aria from
Puccini’s Edgar which was finely done, albeit rather a strange
choice in the context. The smaller roles were well taken with Bryan Secombe as
the Corporal, Luke Price as a peasant and Jean-Pierre Blanchard as the Notary.

Now directed by Christian R‰th , the production seems to have become almost
a caricature of itself, all stylised movement, comic business and hardly any
naturalism. Was Pelly’s production like this when new? I’d don’t remember
it as such, but might be wrong. There is a danger, I think, of this becoming a
comic caricature of a production. Most worryingly, the physical comedy seemed
to be in danger of being an end in itself, rather than arising out of the

The orchestra was in the capable hands of Yves Abel. He and the orchestra
provided fine accompaniments to the arias, but the overture did rather take a
long time to catch fire.

This is the production’s third revival, that’s a total of four runs
since 2007 which is quite a lot of exposure. It would make an interesting
re-boot of the piece if, say, it was given in English with Anglophone actors
performing the dialogue (at the moment we have a variety of nationalities
performing in French), or perhaps investigate the Italian version which
Donizetti himself created in 1840 (this lacks the famous top C’s of the tenor
Ah mes amies, but the replacement aria is not without difficulty). I
am reluctant to suggest that such a popular production be given a rest but
perhaps something of a re-think is certainly in order.

Robert Hugill

Cast and production information:

Marie: Patrizia Ciofi, Tonio: Juan Diego Florez, Marquise de
Berkenfeld: Ewa Podles, Sulpice: Pietro Spagnoli, Hortensius: Donald Maxwell,
Corporal: Bryan Secombe, Peasant: Luke Price, Notary: Jean-Pierre Blanchard,
Duchesse de Crackentorp: Kiri te Kanawa. Director: Laurent Pelly, Revival
Director: Christian R‰th, Dialogue: Agathe Melinand, Set Designs: Chantal
Thomas, Lighting Design: Joel Adam, Choreography: Laura Scozzi. Conductor: Yves
Abel. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden: 3 March 2014.

image_description=Patrizia Ciofi as Marie and Juan Diego FlÛrez as Tonio [Photo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore]
product_title=La Fille du regiment, Royal Opera
product_by=A review by Robert Hugill
product_id=Above: Patrizia Ciofi as Marie and Juan Diego FlÛrez as Tonio [Photo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore]